Antonio di Jacopo Benci (Il Pollaiolo)

Antonio di Jacopo Benci (Il Pollaiolo)

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Artist's Details

Antonio di Jacopo Benci was born in Florence in 1431 or 1432. He owes his nickname to his father Jacopo, who sold poultry for living.

He started as a goldsmith probably in the workshop of Piero Sali or Maso Finiguerra and gained soon a great success.

Lorenzo the Magnificent described him in his letter to Giovanni Lanfredini in 1489 as the greatest artist of Florence stressing the fact that it was the common opinion in the city. In 1457 Antonio was working with the silver reliquary for the altar of St. John and in 1460 he painted the three celebrated canvases of Hercules’ labors for Piero de’ Medici (Lorenzo’s father) in Palazzo Medici.

Antonio wasn’t just a goldsmith. He made many shrines and reliquaries and was very active in the Opera del Duomo in Florence. After working for the altar of St. John he drew the cartoons with the Stories of St. John the Baptist for the embroidered vestments.

He was also an engraver, illustrator and sculptor of bronze statues. The most famous statue represents Hercules and Antaeus (Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello). In these works you can see Pollaiolo’s subtle and energetic design, able to express movement and strong emotions. His style was admired by young Botticelli, who took a great influence from him.

Antonio was also a restorer and he decorated the chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal (Jacopo di Lusitania) in San Miniato Al Monte (1467) with his brother Piero. They painted the altarpiece with the figures of Saints James, Vincent and Eustace (Florence, Uffizi Gallery) and the two curtain-bearing angels on the arch of the fresco.

From the 1480s’ he worked permanently in Rome, occasionally vising Florence where he sent his works. Together with his brother, he concentrated to decorate the tomb of Sixtus IV, which he signed and dated in 1493 as well as the tomb of Innocent VIII (1492). He also worked with the design of the dome for the sacristy of Santo Spirito and the façade of the Florence cathedral Santa Maria Del Fiore.

He died in Rome in 1498.