Alessio Baldovinetti (1427-1499), Florentine painter, was born on the 14th of October 1427, and died on the 29th of August 1499. He was a follower of the group of scientific realists and naturalists in art which included Andrea del Castagno, Paolo Uccello and Domenico Veneziano, the influence of the last-named master being particularly manifest in his work. Tradition, probable in itself though not attested by contemporary records, says that he assisted in the decorations of the chapel of S. Egidio in Santa Maria Nuova, carried out during the years 1441-1451 by Domenico Veneziano and in conjunction with Andrea del Castagno. That he was commissioned to complete the series at a later date (1460) is certain. In 1462 Alessio was employed to paint the great fresco of the Annunciation in the cloister of the Annunziata, which still exists in ruined condition. The remains as we see them give evidence of the artist's power both of imitating natural detail with minute fidelity and of spacing his figures in a landscape with a large sense of air and distance; and they amply verify two separate statements of Vasari concerning him: that "he delighted in drawing landscapes from nature exactly as they are, whence we see in his paintings rivers, bridges, rocks, plants, fruits, roads, fields, cities, exercise-grounds, and an infinity of other such things," and that he was an inveterate experimentalist in technical matters.
His favourite method in wall-painting was to lay in his compositions in fresco and finish them a secco with a mixture of yolk of egg and liquid varnish. This, says Vasari, was with the view of protecting the painting from damp; but in course of time the parts executed with this vehicle scaled away, so that the great secret he hoped to have discovered turned out a failure. In 1463 he furnished a cartoon of the Nativity, which was executed in tarsia by Giuliano de Maiano in the sacristy of the cathedral and still exists. From 1466 date the groups of four Evangelists and four Fathers of the Church in fresco, together with the Annunciation on an oblong panel, which still decorate the Portuguese chapel in the church of S. Miniato, and are given in error by Vasari to Pietro Pollaiuolo. A fresco of the risen Christ between angels inside a Holy Sepulchre in the chapel of the Rucellai family, also still existing, belongs to 1467. In 1471 Alessio undertook important works for the church of Sta Trinità on the commission of Bongianni Gianfigliazzi. First, to paint an altar-piece of the Virgin and Child with six saints; this was finished in 1472 and is now in the Academy at Florence: next, a series of frescoes from the Old Testament which was to be completed according to contract within five years, but actually remained on hand for fully sixteen.
In 1497 the finished series, which contained many portraits of leading Florentine citizens, was valued at a thousand gold florins by a committee consisting of Cosimo Rosselli, Benozzo Gozzoli, Perugino and Filippino Lippi; only some defaced fragments of it now remain. Meanwhile Alessio had been much occupied with other technical pursuits and researches apart from painting. He was regarded by his contemporaries as the one craftsman who had rediscovered and fully understood the long disused art of mosaic, and was employed accordingly between 1481 and 1483 to repair the mosaics over the door of the church of S. Miniato, as well as several of those both within and without the baptistery of the cathedral.
These are the recorded and datable works of the master; others attributed to him on good and sufficient internal evidences are as follows: - A small panel in the Florence Academy, with the three subjects of the Baptism, the Marriage of Cana and the Transfiguration; this was long attributed to Fra Angelico, but is to all appearance early work of Baldovinetti: an Annunciation in the Uffizi, formerly in the church of S. Giorgio; unmistakably by the master's hand though given by Vasari to Peselino: several Madonnas of peculiarly fine and characteristic quality; one in the collection of Madame André at Paris acquired direct from the descendants of the painter, a second, formerly in the Duchâtel collection and now in the Louvre, a third in the possession of Mr Berenson at Florence. All these are executed with the determined patience and precision characteristic of Baldovinetti; two, those at the Louvre and in the André collection, are distinguished by beautiful landscape backgrounds; and all, but especially the example in the Louvre, add a peculiar and delicate charm to the quality of grave majesty which Alessio's works share with those of Piero della Francesca and others of Domenico Veneziano's following.
They probably belong to the years 1460-1465. In the later of his preserved works, while there is no abatement of precise and laborious finish, we find beginning to prevail a certain harshness and commonness of type, and a lack of care for beauty in composition, the technical and scientific searcher seeming more and more to predominate over the artist.