Benvenuto Tisi or Garofalo, (Ferrara, 1481–1559)

St. Margaret Slaying the Dragon

Saint Margaret with Her Dead Dragon at Her Feet (After Raphael). Oil on panel. Framed 27 x 21 1/2

Benvenuto Tisi (or Garofalo) (Ferrara, 1481–1559)

Benvenuto Tisi, one of the most prolific 16th-century painters, was a late Renaissance Italian Mannerists born in the small city of Ferrara. He is often referred to by his nickname, Garofalo, which is thought to have derived from his habit of signing some works with a picture of a carnation — in Italian, garofano. Benvenuto painted extensively in Ferrara, both in oil and in fresco. Although he concentrated primarily on religious themes, he also produced a number of works based on mythological subjects.

Invited to Rome by a Ferrarese gentleman, Geronimo Sagrat, Benvenuto Tisi worked briefly (1508 to 1511) under the Italian master Raphael, assisting in the decoration of the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican Palace. Family affairs forced Garofalo to return to Ferrara, where Duke Alfonso I commissioned him and Dosso Dossi, another student of Raphael, to execute paintings for several Italian palaces.

Some of his earliest documented works are “Madonna and Child” and “Adoration of the Child,” completed between 1510 and 1517. After this came his more noted works, including “The Boar Hunt” in the Palazzo Sciarra, and for the Venice Academy of Fine Arts, “Virgin in the Clouds with Four” in 1518.

Two of his principal works are the “Massacre of the Innocents” (1519), in the church of S. Francesco, and his masterpiece “Betrayal of Christ” (1524). Other noted works by Garofalo include his “Adoration of the Magi” for the Church of San Giorgio and “Knights Procession” for the Palazzo Colonna in Rome. “Annunciation” currently hangs in the Uffizi Gallery, alongside his piece, “Christ and the Tribute Money.” Currently hanging in the National Gallery of London are his works, “Agony in the Garden” and “Allegory of Love.”

Garofalo started a workshop in Ferrara later in life, from which a prominent student, Girolamo da Carpi (1501 – 1556) was trained. Garofalo worked diligently into the late 1550s, but sadly became stricken with blindness before his death in 1559.

The Frick in New York recently (2014) mounted a temporary installation of devotional panels by Garofalo and Fra Bartolommeo. On loan from The Alana Collection, the two panels exemplify the tradition of small-scale devotional works, which inspired the Frick’s famed large-scale masterpiece by Giovanni Bellini, “St. Francis in the Desert.” The paintings of Bellini, Fra Bartolommeo, and Garofalo hung side by side in the gallery, offering three “distinct interpretations of the common theme of penitent saints encountering the divine within brilliantly rendered landscapes.”

The story of St. Margaret Slaying the Dragon

In the early history of the Church, persecution and martyrdom were quite common. Some of the most popular stories were of Christian women who refused to reject Christ or marry the oppressive Roman leaders. The story of Saint Margaret is one of the most popular in this particular theme.

Margaret was the daughter of a powerful 5th Century Roman priest who worshipped Pagan gods. Raised by a nurse, Margaret was baptized a Christian. Much to her father’s distain, she refused to pay homage to his gods. Unwilling to denounce her faith, the young Margaret was imprisoned and severely tortured. While bleeding in her tiny prison cell, a terrible dragon appeared and swallowed her whole. Instead of surrendering to the dragon, Margaret fought back. She cut and hacked her way out of the dragon single handedly with nothing more than an iron cross from around her neck.

The popular story of Margaret, a woman-become-martyr-become-saint, is painted on church walls, depicted in vivid stained glass, captured in limestone statues, illustrated in manuscripts, and retold on wooden panels, metal plates and stretched canvases.

St Margaret Slaying the Dragon, Benvenuto Tisi (or Garofalo(Ferrara, 1481–1559)