Like Pontormo, who very much influenced his early work, Rosso Fiorentino (born Florence, 1494 - died Fontainebleau, France, 1540) was a pupil of Andrea dal Sarto, and was, for many reasons, a rebel with regards to the classical paradigms that were already being contested at the time. Starting from the balanced constructions of his maestro, Rosso pushes his expressive figures into a disquieting and tormented world.
Among some of his first well-known artworks, he helped create the decorative elements in the city of Florence on occasion of Pope Leo X’s visit in 1515. Vasari remembers that he was one of the artists that studied the Michelangelo’s Battle of Cascina. Rosso rielaborated Michelangelo’s style, transforming it into brutal movements, unnatural colors, and making a stronger break from tradition.
In 1521, he created his greatest masterwork: the Deposition from the Cross in Volterra (Pisa). Similar in size and theme to a painting by Pontormo, Rosso’s Deposition from the Cross is mainly different for the manner in which it was planned. Rosso obtains a more dramatic effect thanks to the voluminous angles that cut into the figures. He accomplished this effect thanks to the convulsive movements of the figures, and the contrast of intense reddish colors against the uniform sky in the background. The deformed bodies and faces of Rosso’s figures express an extreme sense of exasperation: the face of the old man on top of the cross is so contracted it looks like a mask. The asymmetric disposition of the stairs generates a sense of violence, accentuated by the men that are taking Christ’s body down from the cross. As the light forcefully cuts through the scene, it creates rough chiaroscuro elements.
With Rosso, art surpasses the more ‘whimsical’ phase of Mannerism, and this artist takes the Mannerist style to extremes. His expressiveness is seen in his figures’ skeletal arms, distraught faces and rarefied colors. Indeed, Rosso rejects the canonic human form of the Renaissance: he protests it and breaks away from it, to go toward instead, a more bizarre style that deals with crueler themes.
In 1518, he painted the Pala Ognissanti, and in 1522, the Pala Santo Spirito. From 1523 to 1527, he was in Rome at the papal court of Clement VII (a Medici pope), but left Rome before it was sacked. In those years, he painted the Original Sin fresco (1524) in Santa Maria della Pace, inspired by Raphael. He later moved north, first to Perugia, then to Sansepolcro and Arezzo. In the Citta di Castello, he painted the Glory of Christ from 1528 to 1530. He then went to Venice and later France. There he decorated the palace at Fontainebleau for Francis I of France, with Francesco Primaticcio and other Italian artists. He worked extensively in France and experimented further in art, introducing the Mannerist style to France. Both Rosso and Primaticcio are considered the founders of the first school of Fontainebleau.