1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Beccafumi, Domenico di Pace
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Beccafumi, Domenico di Pace
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BECCAFUMI, DOMENICO DI PACE (1486-1551), Italian painter, of the school of Siena. In the early days of the Tuscan republics Siena had been in artistic genius, and almost in political importance, the rival of Florence. But after the great plague in 1348 the city declined; and though her population always comprised an immense number of skilled artists and artificers, yet her school did not share in the general progress of Italy in the 15th century. About the year 1500, indeed, Siena had no native artists of the first importance; and her public and private commissions were often given to natives of other cities. But after the uncovering of the works of Raphael and Michelangelo at Rome in 1508, all the schools of Italy were stirred with the desire of imitating them. Among these accomplished men who now, without the mind and inspiration of Raphael or Michelangelo, mastered a great deal of their manner, and initiated the decadence of Italian art, several of the most accomplished arose in the school of Siena. Among these was Domenico, the son of a peasant, one Giacomo di Pace, who worked on the estate of a well-to-do citizen named Lorenzo Beccafumi. Seeing some signs of a talent for drawing in his labourer's son, Lorenzo Beccafumi took the boy into his service and presently adopted him, causing him to learn painting from masters of the city. Known afterwards as Domenico Beccafumi, or earlier as II Mecarino (from the name of a poor artist with whom he studied), the peasant's son soon gave proof of extraordinary industry and talent. In 1509 he went to Rome and steeped himself in the manner of the great men who had just done their first work in the Vatican. Returning to his native town, Beccafumi quickly gained employment and a reputation second only to Sodoma. He painted a vast number both of religious pieces for churches and of mythological decorations for private patrons. But the work by which he will longest be remembered is that which he did for the celebrated pavement of the cathedral of Siena. For a hundred and fifty years the best artists of the state had been engaged laying down this pavement with vast designs in commesso work, — white marble, that is, engraved with the outlines of the subject in black, and having borders inlaid with rich patterns in many colours. From the year 1517 to 1544 Beccafumi was engaged in continuing this pavement. He made very ingenious improvements in the technical processes employed, and laid down multitudinous scenes from the stories of Ahab and Elijah, of Melchisedec, of Abraham and of Moses. These are not so interesting as the simpler work of the earlier schools, but are much more celebrated and more jealously guarded. Such was their fame that the agents of Charles I. of England, at the time when he was collecting for Whitehall, went to Siena expressly to try and purchase the original cartoons. But their owner would not part with them, and they are now in the Siena Academy and elsewhere. The subjects have been engraved on wood, by the hand, as it seems, of Beccafumi himself, who at one time or another essayed almost every branch of fine art. He made a triumphal arch and an immense mechanical horse for the procession of the emperor Charles V. on his entry into Siena. In his later days, being a solitary liver and continually at work, he is said to have accelerated his death by over-exertion upon the processes of bronze-casting.