Carlo Dolci, a master Italian artist who lived and worked in Florence his whole life, was born on May 25, 1616. He was a painter during the Baroque period, and he was considered the last master of the Florentine school of Renaissance period. Being a very pious man, Dolci painted only religious portraits, except for one of his own mother when he was just a boy. His unusual talent was obvious at a young age, when at 11 years old he received much attention for his two paintings, one of St. John and the other being the head of the Infant Christ.
Dolci was apprenticed to Jacopo Vignali, a well-respected Florentine artist who was known for his religious frescos. This may have been a difficult apprenticeship for Dolci as his own technique of painstaking perfection was not a good match for making frescoes. Dolci was known to take weeks on his portraits, agonizing over the details, but his end result was often the perfection he yearned for. His paintings were generally highly finished small-sized portraits of heads and he completed very few large scale or life-sized pieces.
He was not considered in any respect to be a prolific artist, but his popularity did keep him very busy. Often he would repeat his paintings, making variations on their themes, but keeping them much in similar aspects. His daughter was also an artist, taking after her father in talent and skill; her name was Agnese Dolci. She, along with other artists Mariani, Mancini, and Loma who worked in Dolci’s workshop, also made excellent copies of her father’s works as they were very popular and in demand by the local Florentines. One such painting, the Mater Dolorosa which is sometimes called Madonna del Dito, has been reproduced abundantly over the years, and even today.
Dolci proved his religious piety through his art; it’s said that he would create a half-figure painting of Christ wearing a crown of thorns every year during the Passion Week, which began on the fifth Sunday of Lent. His greatest works are Fra Ainolfo de' Bardi, (which he painted at age 16), the St Cecilia at the Organ, St Sebastian, an Adoration of the Magi, the St. Catherine Reading, Four Evangelists, Christ Breaking the Bread, St Andrew praying before his Crucifixion, and Virgin and Child. These are all found in museums from London to Rome, and of course they are also being kept safely in the Florentine museums. As always there are critics, and Dolci’s works did not escape them; his paintings have been criticized for their excessive neatness and for having a similarity to Bronzino’s flaw, which was to make the subject’s flesh seem more ivory-like than natural on the canvas.
A sad story, which may be true or not, states that Carlo Dolci died from depression. It is said that he witnessed a painter named Giordano working on a painting one day in 1682. Giordano, who was called “fa presto”, meaning “quick worker”, was able to accomplish more on his canvas in only five hours than Dolci would have ever been able to do with months of hard work. Dolci never seemed to get over that, becoming uncharacteristically melancholy; from 1682 he continued to decline, until he succumbed in Florence on January 17, 1686.