John the Baptist in the Desert, 1600's
Born in Florence on October 17, 1577, Cristofano Allori was a Mannerist painter whose distinct realism sets him on the cusp of the Baroque in his later works. His father, Alessandro Allori, was also a noted painter yet Cristofano chose to go his own way to synthesize the strict draftsmanship of the Florentines with the coloring of the Venetians. This idea was not uncommon, and in fact many artists of the early Baroque favoured such harmony but it was how Allori was able to achieve it that makes him unique. His attention to detail unfortunately limited the amount of works produced, in combination with passing away at the height of his powers at the age of 44, but it is his style that deserves particular merit.
In John the Baptist in the Desert Allori depicts him with the freshness of a Caravaggio, yet with vibrant red and a deep blue sky behind him. Instead of placing St. John the Baptist in dark shadows, he puts the trees and ground in the background in deep shadow, creating a surreal reality that strangely mimics the warm-gelled flash of a camera. How he conceived this in the early 17th century speaks loudly of the kind of creative mind he had. The pose is anatomically graceful, like a sculpture, and the expression on his face, lips parted, is lifelike and believable. Note the detail in the water on the rocks underneath his hands.
Portrait of a Young Boy Wearing a Hat, 1600's
Allori's talent for fine details in the hair and smooth texture of his hat make for an intriguing portrait. Allori pays particular attention to eyes, and the bright highlight on the boy's right eye makes the portrait more real, more authentic, even though just a sketch in sanguine chalk.
San Giuliano Offering Hospitality to Pilgrims, 1620
Presumably one of Allori's last paintings, it isn't hard to see the direction he was embarking on, reminiscent of Raphael before his untimely death. The composition is an inverted trianglar-like shape, yet note how Allori uses color here. Red, black, a very very dark blue and white...and somehow the richness of the colors and the accuracy of the anatomy in these figures is breathtaking. A murky sky looms behind them, again with very heavy repoussoir and he bathes his figures in such a warm light, it is haunting in its intensity. Note the two figures on the right hand side underneath the arch. This is definitely a painting to see in person.
Portrait of a Boy, 1600
Allori's use of hard and soft edges immediately draw the eye into this painting. He creates a mature portrait out of a young boy whose identity is unknown, making us more curious as to who he was. Note the warm light on his face and intricate cool shadows on his cheek.
Ritratto virile, 1505
A curious name for a curious portrait, Allori makes full use of mystery in all of his work, and here it is complete. Like the portrait of the boy, he pays close attention to the collar and little else, as if a foundation or structure to frame the head. This is pure tenebrism, yet it has an emotional component that is not easy to define, and not even Caravaggio's mighty powers could not have conceived of something so simple yet indelible as this. Who is this person, and why does it seem like we know him? Allori conjures a philosophical portrait that begs our attention.
See Google Project's zoomable version here
Judith and Holofernes was a common theme in tenebrism, most popularly depicted by Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi. The attention to the ornate details in Judith's robe is intriguing in how he creates the illusion of texture and bright light falling on a fabric. Normally, a subject of this tenebrism would have been treated with darker and possibly more muted colors, yet here Allori confidently brandishes yellow, red and blue in total Venetian glory. Note how that green pillow on the bottom right brings the eye back into the painting by its complementary red next to it. The facial expressions are real, sober and not melodramatic at all. The model for Judith was his real-life mistress, Maria di Giovanni Mazzafirri, a famous courtesan of her day that apparently had quite an effect on Allori, hence the not-so subtle innuendo of losing his head over her, as it is his head representing Holofernes.
Allori represents one of those gifted artists whose name is largely forgotten yet his art carries enormous impact and beauty. His passion came not from shock value or melodrama, but from giving everything he had into his work, going beyond what was already done before and making it new...and familiar.