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Luca Signorelli (c. 1445 –1523) was an Italian Renaissance painter whose talent was his draughtsman-like quality and his execution of foreshortening. He was born in Cortona, Tuscany, and is considered to be a member of the Tuscan School of painting, even though he worked extensively in Umbria and Rome.
His mother’s brother was the great-great grandfather of Georgio Vasari,
who wrote the Lives of the Painters, and it is from Vasari that we know almost all the important facts of his career. Vasari wrote that Signorelli was apprenticed to Piero della Francesca, a famous painter of the early Renaissance, whose work was characterized by its humanism, its use of geometric forms and its perspective. It is thought Signorelli was also influenced in his early days by Pollaiuolo, whose work shows both classical influences and an interest in human anatomy; reportedly, Pollaiuolo carried out dissections to improve his knowledge of the subject.
In 1472 Signorelli was painting at Città di Castello, city and commune in Umbria, and he presented Lorenzo de’ Medici with a picture, probably the School of Pan. He painted the same subject on the wall of the Petrucci palace in Siena; the principal figure is Pan himself, with a man reclining on the ground and two listening shepherds.
He also painted the sacred, in some frescoes commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV for the shrine of Loreto (see the Conversion of Paul and Doubting Thomas), and a single fresco in the Sistine Chapel, the Testament and Death of Moses, although most of it has been attributed to Bartolomeo della Gatta, Florentine painter, illuminator and monk of a Benedictine order.
Signorelli returned to his native Cortona in 1484, where he was held
in great regard, first as an elected burgher and then as one of the judges of the designs for the façade of the Florence cathedral. He continued paint frescoes, eight in a series of the life of St. Benedict in a monastery in Siena; these have been badly damaged over time.
His massive frescoes of the Last Judgment (1499–1503) in the Orvieto Cathedral are considered his masterpiece. Note in The Elect and the Damned the similarity to the anatomical representations of Pollaiuolo . In the Last Judgment he painted his own portrait (see above), revealing much of his character.
Signorelli went as a delegate from Cortona to Florence and then Rome, where he executed some frescoes for Julius II. These were destroyed to make room for the paintings of Raphael! He had no further commissions from Rome but returned to Cortona, where he worked almost to the day of his death at the age of eighty-two in 1523.