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Baldassare Tommaso Peruzzi

Baldassare Tommaso Peruzzi was an Italian painter, architect and as well as a designer. Born on the 7th of March, 1481 in Ancajano, then a diocese of Volterra, he spent his childhood in Siena, Italy. He became interested in painting at a very early age and was inspired by Pinturicchio. His skills were honed at Rome where he studied architecture and painting. Another important reason for the way he matured in his art-work is his contacts with people like Sodoma and Raphael.

His breakthrough

Peruzzi’s breakthrough work was the construction of the villa, now called Farnesina, on the banks of the river Tiber in 1509. The villa was originally built for the wealthy banker Agostino Chigi. The intricate design and detail of the villa never failed to capture the imagination of the onlooker. The place is well known also for the frescoes painted by Raphael and his pupils, depicting the stories of Psyche and Galatea. Peruzzi has also illustrated the story of Medusa in one of the loggies. Peruzzi painted a firmament with zodiac signs and other heavenly bodies, on the plate glass vault. He did it with such skill it deluded even the great Titian.

The construction of the villa was a turning point in Peruzzi’s work, what with the Pope Leo X appointing him to work on St Peter’s in 1520. However he could not finish the work to completion.

During the Sack of Rome in 1527, Peruzzi’s life was saved on the condition that he would paint the portrait of the Constable de Bourbon (who was killed during the siege). He managed to run to Siena and was made architect to the city. He, in fact, designed the fortifications for the defence of the city and most of them you can still see.

Villa Farnesina

This is acknowledged as one of the finest buildings of the Renaissance period and it has played host to many popes and cardinals. The Farnesina stands in the middle of a beautiful garden of cedars, bergamots, and laurel bushes. Many banquets were held in the place the most famous ones being the one on April 30, 1518 and the one in honour of St. Augustine’s day in 1519. The latter was on the occasion of the wedding of Agostino and Franseca Ordeasca and was blessed by Pope Leo X. After Agostino Chigi died, Cardinal Allessandro Farnese bought the villa and hence the name. The Hall of Galathea contains Raphael’s famous frescoes depicting the victory of the nymph Galathea who is on a shell pulled by Dolphins. A magnificent staircase leads to the first floor into the Salone delle Prospettiv. Designed by Peruzzi himself, the walls here attain a certain reality and seem to open up into landscapes. From the first floor windows, one can get a get a splendid view of the gardens. There is a marble plaque under the bowers which says,

“Whoever enters here: what seems horrid to you is pleasant to me. If you like it, stay, if it bores you, go away; both are equally pleasing to me”

Various works

Peruzzi was able to connect the real space (architecture) and the illusory work (painting) and this was a big hit. Such a talent was evident in such works as frescoes in the Farnesina, the Cappella Ponzetti, and also the Presentazione della Vergine. He was actively involved in the decorating the ceiling of the Stanza d’Eliodoro in the Vatican, though Raphael’s work took the limelight. Raphael designed the murals and even the entire plan for the hall decoration, but it was Peruzzi who did the frescoes closely resembling tapestries in the ceiling.

Between 1521 until his death, he worked on many projects like designing the façade for San Petronio in Bologna and also for the Duomo in Siena.

Peruzzi did the wonderful keystone representing the Saviour of the world, for the Church of Santa Croce. Similar paintings of his can be found in the choir frescoes of Sant’ Onofrio on the Janiculan hill and also in Sant Augustus. Later on, he matured and presented his well acclaimed work- “Madonna with the Saints”- in S Maria della Pace at Rome. The fresco of Augustus and the Triburtine Sibyl in Fontegiusta at Siena followed soon after.

The English National Gallery has an interesting piece of his drawing. It is called the “Adoration of the Magi” and gains its value because the heads of the three kings are portraits of Michelangelo. Raphael, and Titian.

Contribution to Theatre

It should be noted that Peruzzi has designed many theatrical settings in Rome. He had contributed to the large and illusionistic paintings in the interior of the Capitoline theatre in 1513 and his was in fact voted the best of the six paintings adorning the place. Some years later, he successfully designed the apparato e prospettiva for Bibbiena’s ‘La Calandria’, performed in Rome for Leo X. There were other plays, mostly comedies, performed for Leo X but in cramped settings. Peruzzi managed to enliven the plays by his astute setting and lighting arrangements. These made such events a royal spectacle. Such excellence did not miss the attention of Leo X who invited Peruzzi to construct the setting for the reception of King Fracois in Bologna and also the coronation decorations for Pope Clement VII.

His most important contributions to theatre are two paintings which depict how the scenery of Athens for Platus’ Bacchides was set. The scene was the wedding of the Cesarini duke, performed outdoors and was watched by about three thousand people. On one side stands were placed for onlookers while on the other three loges to accommodate cardinals and other important men were arranged. Peruzzi’s skills as a scenographer came to the fore through his drawing of the plan of the stage - with full measurements. The architectural elements of Athens were all depicted in a three-dimensional way and constructed in relief rather than only in illusionistic paint as per a technique, which many agree, Peruzzi invented.

His other Contributions and skills

He began writing a book on the antiquities of Rome and also a commentary on Vitruvius, but did not finish them though he passed on some of his drawings to Serlio, who used them in his treatise. In theatre, Peruzzi introduced the illusionistic perspective scene to Rome. He was also a pioneer in incorporating a combination of relief and painting in his scenographic depictions. All these influenced the future theory of architecture largely.

Peruzzi was an ardent student of Mathematics and also a classical scholar. He also occasionally displayed his scientific engineering skills and practiced arts like stucco work in relief, sgraffito, and also the decorative painted arabesques.
The famous architect Serlio was a protégé of Peruzzi and he has acknowledged the importance of Peruzzi’s tutoring in his life.

Peruzzi died on the 6th of January, 1537 and was buried in the Pantheon beside Raphael who had a great influence on the works of Peruzzi. The Uffizi and the library at Siena house many paintings and designs of this famous artist, many of which are worth more than their weight in gold.