Il Sodoma

IL SODOMA (1477-1549), the name given to the Italian painter Giovanni Antonio Bazzi (who until recent years was erroneously named Razzi). He is said to have borne also the name of " Sodona " as a family name, and likewise the name Tizzioni; Sodona is signed upon some of his pictures. While " Bazzi " was corrupted into " Razzi," " Sodona " may have been corrupted into "Sodoma"; Vasari, however, accounted for the name differently, as a nickname from his personal character. This version appears to have been inspired by Bazzi's pupil and subsequent rival Beccafumi. In R. H. Gust's recent work on the painter another suggestion is made. Vasari tells a story that, Bazzi's horse having won a race at Florence, a cry of "Who is the owner?" went up, and Bazzi contemptuously answered " Sodoma," in order to insult the Florentines (according to Milanesi) ; and Mr Gust offers the suggestion of the Italian friend, that the racing name was really a clipped form of So doma, " I am the trainer." Whatever the real origin, the name was long supposed to indicate an immoral character.

Bazzi was of the family de Bazis, and was born at Vercelli in Lombardy in 1477. His first master was Martino Spanzotto, by whom one signed picture is known; and he appears to have been in his native place a scholar of the painter Giovenone. Acquiring thus the strong colouring and other distinctive marks of the Lombard school, he was brought to Siena towards the close of the 15th century by some agents of the Spannocchi family; and, as the bulk of his professional life was passed in this Tuscan city, he counts as a member of the Sienese school, although not strictly affined to it in point of style. He does not seem to have been a steady of .laborious student in Siena, apart from some attention which he bestowed upon the sculptures of Jacopo della Quercia. Along with Pinturicchio, he was one of the first to establish there the matured style of the Cinquecento. His earliest works of repute are seventeen frescoes in the Benedictine monastery of Monte Oliveto, on the road from Siena to Rome, illustrating the life of St Benedict, in continuation of the series which Luca Signorelli had begun in 1498; Bazzi completed the set in 1502. Hence he was invited to Rome by the celebrated Sienese merchant Agostino Chigi, and was employed by Pope Julius II. in the Camera della Segnatura in the Vatican. He executed two great compositions and various ornaments and grotesques. The latter are still extant; but the larger works did not satisfy the pope, who engaged Raphael to substitute his " Justice," " Poetry," and " Theology." In the Chigi Palace (now Farnesina) Bazzi painted some subjects from the life of Alexander the Great; "Alexander in the Tent of Darius " and the " Nuptials of the Conqueror with Roxana " (by some considered his masterpiece) are more particularly noticed. When Leo X. was made pope (1513) Bazzi presented him with a picture of the " Death of Lucretia " (or of Cleopatra, according to some accounts) ; Leo gave him a large sum of money in recompense and created him a cavaliere. Bazzi afterwards returned to Siena and at a later date went in quest of work to Pisa, Volterra, and Lucca. From Lucca he returned to Siena, not long before his death, which took place on the 14th of February 1549 (the older narratives say 1554). He had squandered his property and is said (rather dubiously) to have died in penury in the great hospital of Siena. Bazzi had married in youth a lady of good position, but the spouses disagreed and separated pretty soon afterwards. A daughter of theirs married Bartolommeo Neroni, named also Riccio Sanese or Maestro Riccio, one of Bazzi's principal pupils.

It is said that Bazzi jeered at the History of the Painters written by Vasari, and that Vasari consequently traduced him ; certainly he gives a bad account of Bazzi's morals and demeanour, and is demeaning towards the merits of his art. According to Vasari, the ordinary name by which Bazzi was known was " II Mattaccio " (the Madcap, the Maniac) this epithet being first bestowed upon him by the monks of Monte Oliveto. He dressed gaudily, like a mountebank; his house was a perfect Noah's ark, owing to the strange miscellany of animals which he kept there. He was a cracker of jokes and fond of music, and sang some poems composed by himself on indecorous subjects. In his art Vasari alleges that Bazzi was always negligent his early success in Siena, where he painted many portraits, being partly due to want of competition. As he advanced in age he became too lazy to make any cartoons for his frescoes, but daubed them straight off upon the wall. Vasari admits, nevertheless, that Bazzi produced at intervals some works of very fine quality, and during his lifetime his reputation stood high.

The general verdict is that Bazzi was an able master in expression, motion and colour. His taste was something like that of Da Vinci, especially in the figures of women, which have grace, sweetness and uncommon earnestness. He is not eminent for drawing, grouping or general elegance of form. His easel pictures are rare ; there are two in the National Gallery in London.

It is uncertain whether Bazzi was a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci, though Morelli (in his Italian Pictures in German Galleries) speaks .of his having " only ripened into an artist during the two years (1498-1500) he spent at Milan with Leonardo"; and some critics see in Bazzi's " Madonna " in the Brera (if it is really by Bazzi) the direct influence of this master. Modern criticism follows Morelli in supposing that Raphael painted Bazzi's portrait in " The School of Athens"; and a drawing at Christ Church is supposed to be a portrait of Raphael by Bazzi.

His most celebrated works are in Siena. In S. Domenico, in the chapel of St Catherine of Siena, are two frescoes painted in 1526, showing Catherine in ecstasy, and fainting as she is about to receive the Eucharist from an angel a beautiful and pathetic treatment. In the oratory of S. Bernardino, scenes from the history of the Madonna, painted by Bazzi in conjunction with Pacchia and Beccafumi (1536-1538) the " Visitation " and the " Assumption " are noticeable. In S. Francesco are the " Deposition from the Cross " (1513) and " Christ Scourged " ; by many critics one or other of these paintings is regarded as Bazzi's masterpiece. In the choir of the cathedral at Pisa is the " Sacrifice of Abraham," and in the Uffizi Gallery of Florence as " St Sebastien."

See for further details, Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, by Robert H. Hobart Cust (1906), which contains a full bibliography. (W. M. R.)

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

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