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Borgognone, Ambrogio

BORGOGNONE, AMBROGIO (fl. 1473-1524), Italian painter of the Milanese school, whose real name was Ambrogio Stefani da Fossano, was approximately contemporary with Leonardo da Vinci, but represented, at least during a great part of his career, the tendencies of Lombard art anterior to the arrival of that master - the tendencies which he had adopted and perfected from the hands of his predecessors Foppa and Zenale. We are not precisely informed of the dates either of the death or the birth of Borgognone, who was born at Fossano in Piedmont, and whose appellation was due to his artistic affiliation to the Burgundian school. His fame is principally associated with that of one great building, the Certosa, or church and convent of the Carthusians at Pavia, for which he worked much and in many different ways. It is certain, indeed, that there is no truth in the tradition which represents him as having designed, in 1473, the celebrated façade of the Certosa itself. His residence there appears to have been of eight years' duration, from 1486, when he furnished the designs of the figures of the virgin, saints and apostles for the choir-stalls, executed in tarsia or inlaid wood work by Bartolommeo Pola, till 1494, when he returned to Milan. Only one known picture, an altar-piece at the church San Eustorgio, can with probability be assigned to a period of his career earlier than 1486. For two years after his return to Milan he worked at the church of San Satiro in that city. From 1497 he was engaged for some time in decorating with paintings the church of the Incoronata in the neighbouring town at Lodi. Our notices of him thenceforth are few and far between. In 1508 he painted for a church in Bergamo; in 1512 his signature appears in a public document of Milan; in 1524 - and this is our last authentic record - he painted a series of frescoes illustrating the life of St Sisinius in the portico of San Simpliciano at Milan. Without having produced any works of signal power or beauty, Borgognone is a painter of marked individuality. He holds an interesting place in the most interesting period of Italian art. The National Gallery, London, has two fair examples of his work - the separate fragments of a silk banner painted for the Certosa, and containing the heads of two kneeling groups severally of men and women; and a large altar-piece of the marriage of St Catherine, painted for the chapel of Rebecchino near Pavia. But to judge of his real powers and peculiar ideals - his system of faint and clear colouring, whether in fresco, tempera or oil; his somewhat slender and pallid types, not without something that reminds us of northern art in their Teutonic sentimentality as well as their Teutonic fidelity of portraiture; the conflict of his instinctive love of placidity and calm with a somewhat forced and borrowed energy in figures where energy is demanded, his conservatism in the matter of storied and minutely diversified backgrounds - to judge of these qualities of the master as they are, it is necessary to study first the great series of his frescoes and altar-pieces at the Certosa, and next those remains of later frescoes and altar-pieces at Milan and Lodi, in which we find the influence of Leonardo and of the new time mingling with, but not expelling, his first predilections.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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