Biography of Giovanni Battista Crescenzi (1577-1635)

Architect, painter, sculptor and Italian patrons born on January 17, 1577 in Rome and died March 9, 1635, in Madrid. Member of one of the most influential families of patricians of Rome and son of the marques Virgilio Crescenzi, who maintained close relations with the oratorianos around Felipe Neri. Five siblings include the painter Francesco Crescenzi dilettante and Cardinal Pietro Paolo Crescenzi.

Giovanni Battista was formed together with his brother Francesco in the workshop of the painter's family, Cristoforo Roncalli, who (probably through the oratorianos) painted fresco the Sala delle virtù (or Sala dell´Accademia) in the Palace of the Crescenzi in Rome.

Crescenzi 15 February 1601 married Anna Mássimo, with whom he had ten children. The first news about the activity of Crescenzi as a painter are due to Baglione (1642), who mentions him as one of the Roman nobles that are dedicated to the Visual Arts. 1604 and 1605 is credited with the realization of some Angelfish carriers of shields on top of the side doors of the Rucellai Chapel in San André delle Valle, decorated by Roncalli. Also are attributed four allegorical paintings in his own Palace, which, whether it is really works, characterized him as a dilettante painter with a late Mannerist style (see Mannerism).

From 1606, the year in which Roncalli left Rome to go to Loreto, Crescenzi led a painting Academy in the family Palace in the Via San Eustachio, to form young artists in naturalist painting. From 1606 he was appointed Superintendent of works and paintings papal, and between 1610 and 1613 oversaw the decoration of the Paolina Chapel in Santa María Maggiore in Rome, coordinating the work of Giuseppe Cesari, Baldassarre Croce, Cigoli, Giovanni Baglione and Guido Reni. Exchange of letters that Crescenzi held with Cardinal Federico Borromeo, it has been deduced that among the painters who worked for Crescenzi found himself also Paul Bril, and that this contributed to the frescoes in the Palace Rotunda delle.

Accompanied by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi, nicknamed for his loyalty "dei Crescenzi" family, Crescenzi came in 1617 to Madrid, likely to win the support of Felipe III in the nomination to Pope's brother, Cardinal Pietro Paolo Crescenzi.

Palomino mentions the activity of Crescenzi as architect. In 1619 he had received a payment for a model of the main façade of the Alcázar, and between May and December of the same year hired in Rome personally silversmiths and goldsmiths who would work in the decoration of the Pantheon of the Kings in El Escorial (1645-1654, completed by Alonso Carbonell).

His fame as a lover and protector of painting still lifes, a pictorial genre traditionally considered inferior, several sources attest. Baglione (1642), Díaz del Valle (1659), Palomino (1624) and Ceán Bermúdez (1800) mentioned a still life representing a variety of Crystal glasses, some with water, wine and fruits, Crescenzi painted upon arrival at Madrid in 1617 to give it to Felipe III (according to Baglione). This painting was (also according to Palomino) in the Palacio Real. The fact that Ceán Bermúdez (unlike its predecessors) is not mentioned in its description of the painting that picture is located in the Royal collection suggests that it was lost. Currently not known any still life signed by Crescenzi, and nor any that can be attributed him safely, its influence in the first Spanish specialist of still lifes, Juan van der Hamen, even for example practical, theoretical instruction or advice through their knowledge of Italian paintings of still lifes, is very likely.

Taking into account the origin of a noble Roman family and good relations that had maintained the family with the Church, not surprisingly, the rapid social rise of Crescenzi in the Spanish Court. In 1618 he was appointed gentleman of the mouth by Felipe III, and its modern taste in architecture decoration and the introduction of naturalism in Spain caravaggesco gave increasingly more importance as a consultant in matters of art. In 1626, Felipe IV appointed him Knight of Santiago and granted him the title of Marqués de La Torre

Apart from its almost certainly contact with Juan van der Hamen, may be related to her many other artists, for which their friendship was a vehicle of prosperity. In 1630 Crescenzi sent a series of paintings to Carlos I of England, including four still lifes were also found with grapes from Juan FernándezEl Labrador. It is very likely that Crescenzi was the patron of the enigmatic Spanish painter, and it also initiated him in the painting of still life paintings and still lifes by Pietro Paolo Bonzi (very admired by the Crescenzi family) and the master of still lifes of Aquavella. He was also the protector of the painter Antonio de Pereda, and also propelled the rapid success of Velazquez in the Court. In 1634 Crescenzi sold thirteen still lifes from his own collection to Felipe IV for the decoration of the Palacio del Buen Retiro.

The high esteem in which was held with Crescenzi in matters of art it attests to the fact that in 1627 was elected jury in a painting contest on the topic of the Expulsion of the Moors, together with another Italian, Juan Bautista Maino, Professor of drawing of Felipe IV. Pacheco (1649) recorded both judges with "great knowledge of painting". Velazquez won the contest, and it is possible that he had portrayed Crescenzi, a portrait of Velazquez's hand is in the Madrid collection of the Marquis of Carpio in 1688.

Like Velázquez, Crescenzi was treated by Rubens when it resided in Madrid in 1628, and it is possible to buy the artist his painting Christ, Savior. He worked as artistic advisor to the cardinal Zapata, and in 1632 he was appointed Royal steward by Felipe IV. Under his reign Crescenzi was, between 1630 and 1635, Member of the powerful Board of works and forests, in which he held the position of Superintendent of special works, thus predating Velazquez in this task. His most important concern was the direction of the works of construction of the Real Palacio of Buen Retiro, which hired artists who also worked in El Escorial, among them the aforementioned Alonso Carbonell.

The fact that Díaz del Valle (1659) dedicated him a biography and that you place it within the context, then of the Velazquez and the Royal family biographies highlights the great importance of Crescenzi.

For their architectural plans are oriented primarily in Italian projects of palaces of the era in which dominated the garden or the Park on the building itself. His work as responsible for the actual construction was not only discussed in Spain or Italy, but also in England, where Ben Jonson, in a satirical poem against Iñigo Jones, compared to the ambitions of this with the Crescenzi. It was also appointed arbitrator in construction on several occasions, as in the continuation of the works of the Palacio de Carlos V of Granada in 1623, the dome of the Mozarabic Chapel of the Cathedral of Toledo in 1626, of the same Cathedral of 1628 Ochave Chapel and (hired by the Jesuits) to develop an opinion of the refectory of the Colegio de San Hermenegildo de Seville in 1632.

Although attributed to him pictures of the environment caravaggista in Rome and Madrid, including the martyrdom of St. Stephen (Monterotondo / Rovigo, Cathedral), the supper of Emmaus (Los Angeles, J. P. Getty Museum), San Lorenzo and three philosophers (formerly New York, Hispanic Society) and the San Juan Bautista (Toledo, Cathedral), only is can award no doubt funeral monument to the Empress María de Austria in the choir of the Church of the monastery of las Descalzas Reales in Madrid.

Forty-eight works, including still lifes, landscapes, portraits, nudes and religious paintings are mentioned in the inventory of assets made the 12 October 1635.


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Felix Scheffler