Giulio Clovio

(Grizane 1498 - 1578 Rome)

Ascent to the Cross - Crucifixion, c. 1540

tempera on vellum, gold ground, 18,5 x 15,5 cm (7.28 x 6.10 inches)

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Giulio Clovio

(Grizane 1498 - 1578 Rome)

Ascent to the Cross - Crucifixion, c. 1540

tempera on vellum, gold ground, 18,5 x 15,5 cm (7.28 x 6.10 inches)

Re: 853

Provenance: L. Eriksson collection, Sweden

Literature:

Unpublished

Description:

In highly idealized settings-in which, however, the abstracted light of the gold background does not prevent the subtle definition of chiaroscuro in the portraits of the protagonists' faces-two episodes of Christ's passion are unfolding. In the first oval the Redeemer falls under the weight of the cross: a tormentor wields a staff behind him, while Nicodemus attempts to help him by lifting the base of the instrument of torture; Judas stretches out his hand toward his master and shows the rope with the knot with which he will hang himself; finally, on the opposite side Saint Veronica unfolds the shroud on which the effigy of the holy face has remained imprinted.

In the second oval, the scene appears less crowded: at the base of the cross are only the Virgin, St. John and Mary Magdalene, who express grief with eloquent poses, but in a nonetheless rather measured manner.The paintings, made on parchment with the application of gold foil, have been referred, on their passage at the Canesso Gallery in Paris (1998), to the Dalmatian painter and miniaturist Giulio Clovio . This attribution is confirmed not only by the very high quality of the drawing and the adoption of formal models borrowed from Michelangelo's folios , but also by the use of a very elaborate technique of gold application, rather recurrent, moreover, in Clovio's works on parchment. If in fact the artist in the miniatures on paper tends to make use above all of his skill in chiaroscuro and the quality of the colors, in the paintings on parchment - which, after all, turns out to be his privileged support - the material component becomes as important as the drawing itself. Clovio's in other words are true works of goldsmithing, conducted through a search for preciousness that offer a new identity to the art of miniature itself .

The painter, working in the 16th century, in a historical phase therefore in which printing had already become established, understood that a codex or a simple illuminated page in his time had to assume value precisely because of that ornamental aspect that was the prerogative solely of the artist's hand and not of the printing presses. The workmanship of gold in his scrolls - see as a term of comparison the famous page with the Evangelists, formerly owned by Pope Gregory XIII and now preserved at the Art Institute of Chicago - feigns a return to a religiosity of late medieval temperament, identified precisely with the gold background painting of the 13th and 14th centuries; and is thus presented as a translation into illuminated images of those dogmatic assumptions that were being affirmed in the same years in the sessions of the Council of Trent, by the protagonists of the season of the Counter-Reformation.

It was precisely his adherence to this incipient sentiment of his age, combined with his remarkable talents as a draughtsman and colorist, that ensured Clovio's continuous fortune lasting almost half a century, from the early 1530s until his death in 1578. After all, Giorgio Vasari, who had had the opportunity to meet him directly and was so impressed by his talents that he included his biography in his Lives - a unique case for a miniaturist - called Clovio a "new and little Michelangelo" : this was an authentic recognition of the artist's worth, since the adjective 'little' alluded not to him, but to the small size of his works in which he succeeded in emulating the grandeur of the figures created by the Florentine genius - this prerogative was also acknowledged to him by another first-rate admirer such as Annibal Caro, who stated how "Don Giulio" succeeded "with very small figures to represent Giants" -.

Clovio thus found himself, by reason of this affinity, to be appreciated and in demand by the same patrons for whom Michelangelo had worked: first and foremost Cardinal Alessandro Farnese the Younger, nephew of Pope Paul III, to whom Clovio in 1546 delivered the Officium Virginis, the famous Book of Hours now preserved at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York . Between this date and the middle of the following decade-when the artist produced, again for Alessandro Farnese, some of the miniatures included in the so-called Towneley Lectionary, also a volume now preserved in New York, but at the Public Library-some erratic miniatures on parchment are inserted that are particularly close, in the technique of execution as in the style adopted, to the ovals here under consideration: among these we point out the Lamentation over the Body of Christ acquired in 2006 from the National Gallery of Art in Washington , a miniature that also shares with ours the choice of gouache instead of simple tempera and the use, though more restrained, of gold to embellish the pictorial material.