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DON GIULIO CLOVIO (1498-1578)

Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists






THERE HAS NEVER BEEN, nor perhaps will there ever be for many centuries, a more rare or more excellent minaturist, or we would rather say painter of little things, than Don Giulio Clovio, in that he has surpassed by a great measure all others who have ever been engaged in that kind of painting. This master was born in the province of Sclavonia, or rather, Croatia, at a place called Grisone, in the diocese of Madrucci, although his elders, of the family of the Clovi, had come from Macedonia; and the name given to him at baptism was Giorgio Giulio. As a child he gave his attention to letters; and then, by a natural instinct, to design. And having come to the age of eighteen, being desirous to make proficience, he came to Italy and placed himself in the service of Cardinal Marino Grimani, with whom for a period of three years he applied himself in such a manner to drawing, that he achieved a much better result than perhpas up to that time had been expected of him; as was seen in some designs of medals and their reverses that he made for that lord, drawn with the pen most minutely, with extreme and almost incredible diligence. Whereupon, having seen that he was more assisted by nature in little things than in great, he resolved, and wisely, that he would give his attention to miniature, since his works in that field were full of grace and beautiful to a marvel; being urged to this, also by many friends, and in particular by Giulio Romano, a painter, of bright renown, who was the man who before any other taught him the method of using tints and colors in gum and in distemper.

Among the first works that Clovio colored was a Madonna, which, as a man of ingenious and beautiful spirit, he copied from the book of the Life of the Virgin, which was printed in wood engraving among the first sheets of Albrecht Duerer. Whereupon, having acquitted himself well, in that his first work, he made his way by means of Signor Alberto da Carpi, who was then working in Hungary, into the service of King Louis and of Queen Maria, the sister of Charles V; for which King he executed a Judgment of Paris in chiaroscuro, which much pleased him, and for the Queen the Roman Lucrectia killing herself, and some other things, which were held to be very beautiful. The death of that King then ensuing, and the ruin of everything in Hungary, Giorgio Giulio was forced to return to Italy; where he had no sooner arrived than the old Carding Campeggio took him into his service. Thereupon, being settled to his liking, he executed a Madonna in miniature for that lord, and some other little things, and disposed himself to attend at all costs with greater study to the matters of art; and so he set himself to draw, and to seek with every effort to imitate the works of Michelangelo. But this fine resolution was interrupted by the unhappy sack of Rome in the year 1527, when the poor man, finding himself the prisoner of the Spaniards and maltreated, in his great misery had recourse to divine assistance, making a vow that if he escaped safely from that miserable ruin and out of the hands of those new Pharisees, he would straightway become a friar.

Whereupon, having escaped by the grace of God and made his way to Mantua he became a monk in the Monastery of S. Ruffino, a seat of the Order of Canons Regular of Scopeto; having been promised, besides peace and quiet of mind and tranquil leisure in the service of God, that he would have facilities for attending at times, as it were by way of pastime, to the work of miniature. Having thus taken the habit and the name of Don Giulio, at the end of a year he made his profession, and then for a period of three years he stayed peacefully enough among those fathers, changing from one monastery to another according to his pleasure, as has been related elsewhere, and always working at something. During that time he completed a great choirbook wih delicate illuminations and most beautiful borderings, making in it, among other things, a Christ appearing to the Magdalene in the form of a gardener which was held to be a rare thing. Wherefore, growing in courage, he depicted--but in figures much larger--the Adulterous Woman accused by the Jews before Christ, with a good number of figures; all of which he copied from a picture that had been executed in those days by Tiziano Vecelli, that most excellent painter.

Not long afterwards, it happened that Don Giulio, in transferring himself from one monastery to another, as monks or friars do, by misfortune he broke a leg. Being therefore conveyed by those fathers to the Monastery of Candiana, that he might be better attended he lay there some time without recovering, perhaps having been wrongly treated, as is common, no less by the fathers than by the physicians. Which hearing, Cardinal Grimani, who much loved hjim for his excellence, obtained from the Pope the power to keep him in his service and to have him cured. Whereupon Don Giulio, having thrown off the habit, and his leg being healed, went to Perugia with the Cardinal, who was Legate there; and, setting to work, he executed for him in miniature these works: an Office of Our Lady, with four most beautiful stories, and in an Epistolar three large stories of St. Paul the Apostle, one of which was sent not long afterwards to Spain. He also made for him a very beautiful Pieta', and a Christ Crucified, which after the death of Grimani came into the hands of Messer Giovanni Gaddi, Clerk of the Chamber.

All of these works caused Don Giulio to become known in Rome as an excellent craftsman, and were the reason that Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, who has always assisted, favored, and desired to have about him rare and gifted men, having heard his fame and seen his works, took him into his service in which he has remained ever since and still remains, old as he is. For that lord, I say, he has executed an infinite number of the rarest miniatures, of which I shall mention here only a part, because to mention them all is almost impossible. In a little picture he has painted Our Lady with her Son in her arms, with many Saints and figures around, and Pope Paul III kneeling, portrayed from life so well, that for the smallness of that miniature he seems as if alive; and all the other figures likewise, appear to lack nothing save breath and speech. That little picture, as a thing truly of the rarest, was sent to Spain to the to the Emperor Charles V, who was amazed by it. After that work the Cardinal caused him to set his hand to executing in miniature the stories in an Office of Our Lady, written in lettering shaped by Monterchi, who is a rare master in such work. Whereupon Don Giulio, resolving that this work should be the highest flight of his powers, applied himself to it with much study and diligence, that no other was ever executed with more; wherefore he has achieved with the brush things so stupendous, that it does not appear possible to go so far with the eye or with the hand. Don Giulio has divided this labor into twenty-six little scenes, each two sheets being next to one another, the figure and the prefiguration, and every little scene has around it an ornament different from the other, with figures and fantasies appropriate to the story that it represents. Nor do I wish to grudge this labor of describing them so briefly, for the reason that everyone is not able to see them. On the first page, where Matins begin, is the Angel bringing the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, and in the ornament a border full of little children that are marvellous; and in the other scene Isaiah speaking with King Ahaz. In the second, for Lauds, is the Visitation of the Virgin to Elizabeth, which has an ornament in imitation of metal; and in the opposite scene are Justice and Peace embracing one another.

For Prime is the Nativity of Christ, and opposite, in the Earthly Paradise, Adam and Eve eating the Fruit; both the one and the other with ornaments full of nudes and other figures and animals, portrayed from nature. For Terce he has painted the Shepherds with the Angel appearing to them, and in the opposite scene the Tiburtine Sybil showing to the Emperor Octavian the Virgin with Christ her Son in Heaven; both the one and the other with ornaments of various borders and figures, all colored, and containing the portrait of Alexander the Great and of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. For Sext there is the Circumcision of Christ, where Pope Paul III is portrated for Simeon, and in the scene are portraits of Mancina and Settimia, gentlewomen of Rome, who were of surpassing beauty; and around it a border well adorned, which likewise encloses with the same design the other story that is beside it, wherein is St. John the Baptist baptizing Christ, a scene full of nudes.

For Nones he has made there the Magi adoring Christ, and opposite to that Solomon adored by the Queen of Sheba, both one and the other with borders rich and varied, and at the foot of this the whole Feast of Testaccio executed with figures smaller than ants, which is a marvellous thing to see, that a work so small should have been executed in perfection with the point of a brush; this is one of the greatest things that mortal hand could do or mortal eye could behold, and in it are all the liveries that Cardinal Farnese devised at that time. For Vespers there is Our Lady flying with Christ into Egypt, and opposite is the Submersion of Pharaoh in the Red Sea; and varied borders at the sides. For Complines there is the Coronation of Our Lady in Heaven, with a multitude of Angels, and in the other scene opposite is Ahasuerus crowning Esther; first, in a border in imitation of cameos, the Angel Gabriel announcing the Word to the Virgin; and the two scenes are Our Lady with Jesus Christ in her arms and God the Father creating Heaven and Earth.

Before the Penitential Psalms is the Battle in which Uriah the Hittite was done to death by command of King David, wherein are horses and warriors wounded or dead, all marvellous; and opposite, in the other scene, David in Penitence; and ornaments and also little grotesques. But he who woulod sate himself with marvelling, let him look at the Litanies, where Don Giulio has woven a maze with the letters of the names of the Saints, and there in the margin above is a Heaven filled with Angels around the most Holy Trinity, and one by one the Apostles and the other Saints; and on the other side the Heaven continues with Our Lady and all the Virgin Saints. On the margin below he has depicted with the most minute figures the procession that Rome holds for the solemn office of the Corpus Christi, thronged with officers with their torches, Bishops, and Cardinals, and the most Holy Sacrament borne by the Pope, with the rest of the Court and the Guaard of Halberdiers, and finally Castel S. Angelo firing artillery; all such as to cause every acutest wit to marvel with amazement. At the beginning of the Office for the Dead are two scenes; Death triumphing over all mortals, mighty rulers of States and Kingdoms and the common herd alike, and opposite, in the other scene, the Resurrection of Lazarus, and also Death in combat with some on horseback. For the Office of the Cross he has made Christ Crucified, and opposite is Moses with the rain of serpents, and the same Moses placing on high the serpent of brass. For that of the Holy Spirit is the same Holy Spirit descending upon the Apostles, and opposite is the Building of the Tower of Nimrod.

That work executed by Don Giulio in a period of nine years with so much study and labor, that in a manner of speaking it would never be possible to pay for the work no matter what price; nor is one able to see any more strange and beautiful variety than there is in all the scenes, or bizarre ornaments and various movements and postures of nudes both male and female, studied and well detailed in every part, and placed appropriately all around in those borders, in order to enrich the work. Which diversity of things infuses such beauty into that whole work, that it appears a thing divine and not human, and above all because with his colors and his manner of painting he has made the figures, the buildings and the landscapes recede and fade into the distance with all those considerations that perspective requires, and with the greatest perfection that is possible, insomuch that, whether near or far, they cause everyone to marvel; not to speak of the thousand different kinds of trees, wrought so well that they appear as if grown in Paradise. In the stories and inventiions may be seen design, in the composition order and variety, and richnes in the vestments, which are executed with such beauty and grace of manner that it seems impossible that they could have been fashioned by the hand of man. Wherefore we may say, as we said at the beginning, that Don Giulio has surpassed in this field both ancients and moderns, and that he has been in our times a new, if smaller, Michelangelo.

Continued on Next Page


(Above: Pages from The Farnese Hours, 1546. 
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library.





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