Baccio d'Agnolo engraving and a close up of his work in Santa Maria Novella church

On this day in history: Baccio d’Agnolo born

History of Italy News

The woodcarver, sculptor, and architect Baccio D’Agnolo, who helped shape the architectural landscape of Renaissance Florence, was born in the city on 19th May 1462.

Originally named Bartolomeo Baglioni, he adopted the name d’Agnolo from his father, Angelo, with Baccio being a common diminutive for Bartolomeo. His father’s profession as a woodcarver influenced his early career direction.

Between 1491 and 1502, Baccio contributed much of the decorative carving in Florence’s Santa Maria Novella and Palazzo Vecchio before transitioning to architecture. He collaborated with Simone del Pollaiolo on the restoration of Palazzo Vecchio and, in 1506, was commissioned to complete the drum of the cupola for the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, a project later abandoned due to Michelangelo’s criticism.

He honed his woodcarving skills by studying the works of contemporaries such as Bernardo della Cecca, Giuliano da Maiano, and Francione.

Giorgio Vasari, an art historian and contemporary of many Renaissance greats, praised Baccio as unparalleled in woodwork.

Baccio’s workshop became a hub for renowned artists of the time, including Michelangelo, Raphael, del Pollaiolo, Giuliano and Antonio da Sangallo the Elder, and Benedetto da Maiano.

Although many of his original woodworks have been lost, notable surviving pieces include the choir of Santa Maria Novella and the 16th-century choir of Sant’Agostino in Perugia. His sons helped create the latter.

Marquetry in the Santa Maria Novella choir stalls by Baccio d'Agnolo.
Santa Maria Novella, marquetry of the choir stalls

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Architecture of Baccio d’ Angelo

In the latter part of his life, Baccio focused almost exclusively on architecture. He collaborated with Del Pollaiolo and Antonio da Sangallo the Elder on the Great Hall of Palazzo della Signoria.

He established his architectural reputation in 1503-04 with the construction of Palazzo Taddei in Via dei Ginori, inspired by Del Pollaiolo’s Palazzo Guadagni and setting a template for Florentine noble residences of the early 16th century.

Baccio’s commission to complete the gallery around the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, unfinished by Filippo Brunelleschi, stopped due to Michelangelo’s harsh critique, calling it a “cricket cage.”

Other notable buildings attributed to Baccio include the Palazzo Borgherini-Rosselli del Turco and his design for the campanile of Santo Spirito church.

Santo Spirito cloister and campanile
Spirito Santo cloister and campanile

Baccio had five children, three of whom—Giuliano, Filippo, and Domenico—became architects.

Often considered his masterpiece is the Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni in Piazza di Santa Trinita (1517-20), exemplifying his High Renaissance style. Its innovative features included a portal flanked by columns, the use of pilasters, square windows with triangular pediments, and rusticated corners.

This distinctive new style, according to Renaissance art historian Giorgio Vasari, initially faced significant criticism. Despite later praising it as “noble in its detail”, Vasari noted that the contemporary reaction was harsh.

In response to this criticism, Baccio d’Agnolo inscribed the Latin phrase “Carpere promptius quam imitari” (“Criticising is easier than imitating”) above the door. The windows of the palace also feature another inscription, in Italian: “Per non dormire” (“[A reward] For not sleeping”), the motto of the Salimbeni family. This motto is also reflected in the Bartolini-Salimbeni coat of arms on the frieze of the first floor, which depicts three poppies.

Window of the Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni in Florence, with one of Baccio D'Agnolo's 'messages'
‘Per non dormire’ message on window

Baccio d’Agnolo died in Florence in 1543 aged 80.

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