I am neither an art aficionado nor an art historian, but visiting Italy makes me interested in art. It’s almost impossible not to get intrigued by art when you’re in Italy, since the country is home to so many of the paintings and sculptures that we all studied in high school art classes.
More than just visiting museums and galleries to see works of art, though, I also like finding the tombs of the artists who created those pieces.
Some of Italy’s greatest artists aren’t buried in Italy at all – Leonardo da Vinci is in France, for instance – while the fate of others remains unknown to this day (Caravaggio and Giotto among them). Here, then, is a selection of 13 famous Italian artists buried in Italy, including a bit about their lives and where you can find their tombs.
Let me know if there’s an artist I didn’t include that should be on this list!
Michelangelo was one of the most gifted – and troubled – artists Italy ever produced. He lived an exceptionally long life; he died in Rome in 1564 a few weeks before his 89th birthday.
Though Michelangelo considered himself primarily a sculptor, he was also a talented painter and architect. His famous works include the David sculpture, the ceiling and altar wall frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, the design of the Laurentian Library in Florence, the redesign of Rome’s Capitoline Hill, some of the figures on the Medici tombs, and the exquisite Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Michelangelo requested that he be buried back in Florence, and he was buried in an ornately-decorated tomb designed by Giorgio Vasari.
Raphael was an immensely talented painter and architect who enjoyed life so much that he died young (he was only 37), possibly from a venereal disease. He died in 1520.
Some of Raphael’s most famous works are inside the Vatican Museums in the so-called Raphael’s Rooms. Not all of the frescoes were actually painted by Raphael himself, though all were designed by him and painted by men in his workshop.
His is one of very few tombs inside the Pantheon, and the only tomb of an artist. Raphael reportedly asked to be buried in “the most beautiful church in Rome,” which is what he considered the Pantheon.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini was one of the greatest Italian sculptors and architects who was later said to be the inventor of the Baroque style. He was well-liked during his life, receiving many commissions from the Vatican, and died at age 81 in 1680.
Bernini’s sculptures and structures are found all over Rome, including the “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa” in Santa Maria della Vittoria, the “Fountain of the Four Rivers” in Piazza Navona, the bronze Baldacchino over the high altar in St. Peter’s Basilica, the design of St. Peter’s Square, many pieces in the Galleria Borghese, and (a personal favorite) the Tomb of Pope Alexander VII in St. Peter’s Basilica.
He was buried in an unadorned vault with his parents, and it wasn’t until 1898 that a plaque was placed on the tomb with Bernini’s name.
Sandro Botticelli was a 15th-century painter, one of the artists who benefited from the patronage of the Medici family, but who would also get caught up in a dangerous religious fervor later in his life. He died at the age of about 64 in 1510.
Many of his most famous pieces are in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, including the enormous “Primavera” and “Birth of Venus.” He became a follower of the zealous monk, Savonarla, in the late 1400s, during which time Botticelli was once believed to have burned some of his own paintings in Savonarola’s “Bonfire of the Vanities.”
Botticelli is thought to have loved one Florentine noblewoman from afar his whole life (her face is said to be the one you see repeatedly in his works), and he asked to be buried at her feet when he died. His wish was granted, and the two tombs are close to one another in the Ognissanti church.
Andrea Palladio was one of Italy’s top architects, whose design aesthetic still influences buildings to this day. He wasn’t born with the name Palladio, but rather got it as a nickname from a mentor – the word referred to the Greek goddess of wisdom. He died in 1580 at the age of 71.
Palladio’s signature style became known as the “Palladian style,” and you can see it in many churches, palaces, and villas around Venice and Vicenza. In fact, there’s a collection of “Palladian Villas” around Vicenza that are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The most famous of these are Villa Capra (known as “La Rotonda”) and Villa Barbaro. He also designed Venice’s Il Redentore and San Giorgio Maggiore churches.
Though Palladio was originally buried in Vicenza’s Santa Corona church, his remains were later moved to the Cimitero Maggiore in Vicenza.
The Venetian painter known as Titian was well-known even during his lifetime, which was mostly in the 16th century. He died in 1576 at roughly age 88.
Titian was known for his portraits, as well as religious scenes and landscapes. One of his best-known pieces is the “Assumption of the Virgin,” which is still in the place for which it was commissioned – behind the high altar in the same church in Venice in which Titian would later be buried.
Filippo Brunelleschi was a Florentine architect, and it’s him we have to thank for the gorgeous dome over the Florence Duomo. He died in 1446 at about age 68.
Florence’s cathedral had been built without a dome, and it had remained that way for more than a century. By 1418 a contest was announced for a commission to complete the dome, and Brunelleschi’s design won. The dome wasn’t officially done until 1461, when a friend of Brunelleschi’s finished the project using the original designs.
Brunelleschi was given the honor of being buried inside the Duomo’s crypt – a space typically reserved for bishops.
Donatello was a Florentine sculptor who lived in the 14th-15th centuries, dying in 1466 at about age 80.
Arguably his best-known piece was his bronze statue of David, commissioned by the Medici for the Palazzo Vecchio (it’s now in the Bargello). It’s a statue a young Michelangelo would have seen when he first came under Medici patronage. Another stunning Donatello piece is the wood carving of “Magdalene Penitent” in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence.
Upon his death, Donatello was buried beside his Medici patron.
Filippo Lippi was a 15th-century painter from Florence who joined a monastery at age 16. He eventually the church to become an artist. He was still known as a friar, however – that’s the “Fra” in his name. He died in 1469 around the age of 62.
Lippi’s work is largely made up of religious scenes, with several notable renditions of the Madonna and Child. He died while working on frescoes in the Spoleto Cathedral, and was buried there. Lorenzo de’Medici commissioned the funerary monument that marks the artist’s tomb.
Lorenzo Ghiberti was a Florentine sculptor who lived during the 14th-15th centuries. He died in 1455 at roughly age 76.
His most famous works are the bronze panels created for the doors of the baptistery in Florence. These incredible relief panels were described by a young Michelangelo, upon their unveiling in 1401, as the “Gates of Paradise.” Today, the doors feature replicas – the originals are on display in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
Guido di Pietro became a Dominican friar and was later known as Fra Angelico. He turned to painting, often creating works inside monasteries and churches. He died in 1455 at about age 59. Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1982.
One of Fra Angelico’s most famous works is a fresco of “The Annunciation,” which is on the wall of the San Marco Convent in Florence. He produced many other frescoes in the convent, as well, including some inside the cells in which the monks lived.
Despite his long connection with Florence, Fra Angelico was living in Rome at the time of his death, and was buried in the Santa Maria Sopra Minerva church near the Pantheon.
The 17th-century architect Francesco Borromini was a contemporary of Bernini, but he wasn’t as charming or well-liked.
One of his best-known works is the Sant’Agnese in Agone church on Rome’s Piazza Navona. Popular mythology is that Bernini designed his Fountain of the Four Rivers (which sits right in front of Borromini’s church) so that one figure appears to turn his head away from the church facade in disgust. The story can’t be true, however, as the fountain predates the church.
Borromini killed himself at the age of 67, asked to be buried in the tomb of a friend, and didn’t even want his name on the tomb. Recently, however, a plaque has been added to the floor near the tomb in which he was interred.
Tintoretto was a 16th-century painter from Venice. His given name was Jacopo Comin, and because his father was a dyer – tintore in Italian – he was given the nickname early in life of “Tintoretto,” or “little dyer.”
Perhaps the piece for which Tintoretto is most famous is the monumental “Paradise” painting inside the Doge’s Palace in Venice. It’s the largest canvas painting in the world, measuring more than 74 x 29 feet. Other works include pieces for Venice’s Scuola Grande di San Rocco and the Madonna dell’Orto church in which he would eventually be buried.