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Giorgio Clovio

Famous Italian miniaturist (1498-1578)

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Clovio, GIORGIO (known as GIULIO), a famous Italian miniaturist, called by Vasari “the unique” and “little Michelangelo”, b. at Grizani, on the coast of Croatia, in 1498; d. at Rome, 1578. His family appear to have come from Macedonia, and his original name was perhaps Glovie. Coming to Italy at the age of eighteen, he soon won renown, and became a protégé of Cardinal Grimani, for whom he engraved medals and seals. One of his first pictures was a Madonna after an engraving by Albert Darer. In 1524 Clovio was at Buda, at the court of King Louis II, for whom he painted the “Judgment of Paris” and “Lucretia”. In 1526 he returned to Rome, and a year later, falling into the hands of the Constable Bourbon’s banditti, he made a vow to enter religion if he could escape from them. He accordingly took orders at Mantua, and illustrated several manuscripts for his convent, adopting in religion the name Giulio, perhaps in memory of Giulio Romano, who had been one of his early advisers. Thanks to the intervention of Cardinal Grimani, he was soon released from his vows, and spent several years in the service of this prelate, for whom he executed some of his most beautiful works—a Latin missal, 1537 (in Lord Hertford’s collection), and a Petrarch (in the Trivulzio Library at Milan). He was at Venice in 1538, but in 1540 was summoned to Rome by Pope Paul III. Cosimo II then lured him to Tuscany, and princes disputed over his achievements. Philip II ordered from Clovio a life of his father, Charles V, in twelve scenes, and John III of Portugal paid him 2000 ducats for a psalter, but a prayer book which he made for Cardinal Farnese, and which Vasari calls a “divine work”, was considered Clovio’s masterpiece. The binding was made after a design by Cellini. Clovio died in Rome at the age of eighty; his tomb is to be seen in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, and his works are preserved in all the libraries of Europe, especially that of the Vatican.

This famous artist, although one of the most highly esteemed in his own line, was nevertheless among those who helped to injure it. By introducing into it the ideas and monumental style of the Renaissance and replacing rich costumes, delicate arabesques, and Gothic foliage by the nude, by antique ornaments, trophies, medallions, festoons, etc., Clovio contributed largely to the decadence of the charming art of miniature-painting, and his example of extreme elaboration was imitated throughout Europe at a time when printing had not yet supplanted manuscripts for editions de luxe. However sumptuous his work, it lacked the quality which distinguished that done by the French illuminators at an earlier period for Charles V and the Duc de Berry.

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