There are several stories related to the life of Bartolommeo Bandinelli (sometimes known as Bartolommeo Brandini) which have slightly tarnished his reputation but it is important to remember that aside from all from that, he was fundamentally an impressive sculptor who also produced some highly regarded drawings and paintings too. The Florentine remains most famous for his Hercules and Cacus which can today be found at the Piazza della Signoria in his hometown. It sits in a prominent location which allows us to be reminded of his qualities as an artist. His own interpretation of Pietà can be found in the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata whilst Orpheus is located in the courtyard of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, with both venues also found in Florence. His drawings are also highly regarded and include architectural studies and plans as well as some complex figurative work. One of the key biographers on the Italian Renaissance, Giorgio Vasari, would discuss this artist's career in detail and much of what we know about him comes from his publications.
The sculptor became a key figure within a group of Florentine Mannerists who themselves were fond of the work of Donatello, regularly meeting to discuss and study his work in detail. Bandinelli himself is known to have studied some of this artist's sculptures in detail, making drawings of them, though he would later distance himself from this influence. Experts on the Florentine have argued that his immense ability that showed itself through his smaller sculptures and drawings were lost once he switched to larger statues. It was as if his ingenuity simply could not translate into the final, large sculptures which were supposed to be his finest achievements. Smaller items might be constructed in terracotta, for example, as early preparation for the fuller marble construction that would follow on afterwards. This might explain how the sculptor was able to achieve such impressive commissions, even though his delivery has since been criticised by some. There has also been discussion around how he followed Michelangelo too closely, whilst not possessing the same levels of technical ability when working in the larger scale.
One comparison of Bandinelli which is entirely favourable is that for many years several of his drawings have been misattributed to Michelangelo, underlining the exceptional talents that he held as a draughtsman. It is only in recent years that these have been corrected and that his own ability within this medium has been truly understood and, indeed celebrated. Three Male Heads, The Holy Family and Seated Figure with Cloak and Turban are amongst the best examples of this and he also produced several paintings including a Self Portrait and a portrait of Michelangelo himself. He seemed somewhat obsessed by the great master and perhaps this caused him to over stretch his talents, rather than focusing more on what he was best at. It is claimed that Rosso Fiorentino was also an influence upon this artist, and it is fair to say that he was not the only sculptor to struggle in the shadow of Michelangelo during that period in Italian art. In recent years his drawings have enabled his career to be treated more favourably, though he still remains something of a fringe figure within the overall history of Florentine art, such is the competitiveness of its output over around two centuries.
Some have argued that this sculptor accepted commissions too readily, taking on more work than he could reasonably accomplish. This would lead to some items being unfinished but the same claim can also be aimed at Michelangelo, and so it would be wrong too treat Bandinelli too harshly in this regard. Additionally, there are still plenty of fully completed sculptures, many of which are mentioned here, which help to refute that claim, at least to an extent. It is important to remember that sculptors would regularly take on different projects around Italy, often overlapping the work and using assistants to fulfil the less demanding elements of each piece. Even the great Michelangelo would walk out of contracts mid-project, sometimes leaving behind annulled agreements which would then be passed on to someone else. There would also be considerable amounts of politics involved in some of these projects, which could lead to interference, even plans being changed considerably at a late stage which could lead to the breakdown in relationships of those organising each sculpture.
Mannerism was an important period in Italian art which appeared in the later years of the High Renaissance, from around 1520-1530, by which point the artist himself would have been approaching his own peak as a sculptor. The movement would flourish and also gift us the likes of Benvenuto Cellini, El Greco, Jacopo Tintoretto and Agnolo Bronzino and allowed new ideas to enter the Renaissance which had already been through several different stages across several centuries. The main aspects of the style were to elongate body form and also to add extra emotion and expression beyond what was delivered by nature alone. With so many art schools around Italy at the time, each with their own particular approaches, it was inevitable that different regions would progress in different directions. Bartolommeo Bandinelli would become unpopular after disrepecting other, more successful artists which gave the impression of an individual who was envious and bitter, despite receiving so many impressive commissions himself. It was perhaps his inability to deliver large sculptures to the same quality as his smaller pieces which left him so frustrated, leading to outbursts aimed at others in the art world.
Put simply, the Mannerist era was the link between the High Renaissance and the later Baroque. A wonderful treat for those interested in this period is that many paintings from this era can be seen in person in and around Florence's smaller religious buildings. The most famous artworks are, of course, now on display in some of the biggest galleries across Europe and beyond, but some of the next level of artists are represented in and around the city for those who take time to research what's available. In many cases you will even be able to study these artworks in person by yourselves, as most will be completely unaware of their value and significance, and probably are visiting purely for religious reasons. Bandinell's sculptures, by their very nature, cannot really be hidden away in the corner of a quiet Cathedral, and so are more likely to be found out on display in major piazzas around Florence or within courtyards of significant buildings such as the Uffizi, the Boboli Gardens or Bargello, for example.