Of Art and Volterra: I Volterrani

Over the course of history there were several artists who came from Volterra, and therefore –  for the outside world – they went by the nickname “da Volterra” (from Volterra) or “Volterrano” (Volterran). This form of recognition of the place of origin for people was common through middle ages, and only  gradually replaced by a more unique family name. In some cases the connection was preserved, too, and the new family name was simply the name of the place or city of the family origin.

It is probably safe to speculate that the chronicles did not record all of the artists who came from Volterra, whether in distant antiquity or later, we know only those whose work distinguished itself beyond the fragile memory of the contemporaries. It is also difficult to research history of Volterra from my house in Royal Oak, no matter how powerful research tool Internet is. This article should be considered a work in progress, it will be continuously appended with new information, with more details.

When you look at the dates below, it shows quickly that three names are placed in XVI century, then one “Il Volterrano” in XVII century. Why? We can only speculate, but some conclusions are irresistible:

Volterra was a free Comune since XIII century. It fell victim to the power of Florence in 1572, and the symbol of this moment is still dominating the skyline of the city: the Fortezza Medicea, a powerful fortress, built right after the conquest and until today used as a high security prison (however run by the state, not by Florence). There are not very many examples of such a strong demonstration of the new power in Tuscany. Volterra must have been a real “pain in the neck” of Florence, for the Medicis to put so much effort to subdue the city. The fortress was just a symbol, but freedom is expressed and enjoyed in a variety of ways. Since 1572, practically, Volterra becomes a provincial town, it is not deciding its destiny, nor its policies. The testimonies of the XIX century travelers are similar: Volterra is quiet, small, barely a shadow of its glorious past. “Ombra della Sera” (Evening shadow) is the beautiful Etruscan sculpture which speaks proudly about the city’s past, but its name has this ominous meaning too.

Whet about the period before the XVI century? In my list there is just one name. The enigmatic presence of one artist recorded in XIV century (Francesco da Volterra, a painter), shows that there might have been others. Throughout XV century, Volterra had something to offer to the communities competing with each other not only on the battlefield, but also through the artistic demonstrations of culture and wealth. Volterra, still free to shape its future, had its own guilds and artists. Art, craft and trade historically were not seen as distant from each other, like today. Consider this:

Meshullam Ben Menahem Volterra  was an “…Italian jeweler of the fifteenth century. He lived in Florence, where he and his father, Menahem ben Aaron Volterra, carried on a business in precious stones. According to Abraham Portaleone, Volterra wrote a book on jewelry. In 1481 he undertook a journey to the Orient, going by way of Rhodes to Alexandria, where there were at that time only sixty Jewish families. (…) Volterra reached Jerusalem, where at that time there were 250 Jewish families (…) He then passed through Jaffa and Damascus to Crete, where he was shipwrecked (…) Volterra finally reached Venice in October. His account of the journey, which has been preserved in manuscript in the Laurentiana (cod. xi. 3, p. 128), was first published by Luncz in his “Jerusalem” (i. 166-219) …“  (Jewish Encyclopedia, Jewish Encyclopedia.com The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia)
This book is one of the earliest account of the travels of the members of the Jewish diaspora in Europe to Jerusalem.

So, here is the list of the artists who came from Volterra, here they are, “da Volterra”, “I Volterrani”

Francesco da Volterra  (dates of birth and death unknown) Painter There are records of his residence in Pisa from 1370–1372, when he painted the fresco History of Job on the South wall of Campo Santo.

Ulisse Macciolini da Volterra (1500?) There are records of his employment in Tivoli 1566-68

Daniele Ricciarelli (also known as Daniele da Volterra) ( born c. 1509 in Volterra – died 4 April 1566) was a mannerist painter and sculptor.

Francesco Capriani da Volterra, (also known as Il Volterra or Francesco da Volterra) (Volterra, 1535 – Roma, 1594) architect.

Baldassare Franceschini (known also as “Il Volterrano“, born 1611 in Volterra, died 1690) Painter