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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Giulio Clovio

Detail from a portrait of Giulio Clovio by El Greco dating from about 1571-72.
Clovio points to his  most famous work, the Farnese Book of Hours.
Giulio Clovio Self-portrait, ca. 1565
I've long insisted that painting is now an antique art form. Every so often I find a rare artist whose work causes me to revisit that mindset, but for the most part, that's still my contention. There are simply too many other means of creative expression that are more effective while allowing the art lover the same, or often, a better viewing experience. Photography, and later, color photograph in particular, were among the first new art media to do so. Motion pictures did as well, though the cost of creating in this media was too much for most artists. Video brought those costs down and eventually evolved to such a high level of quality as to surpass motion pictures, even in the hands of amateurs. I've produced half-hour videos with virtually no production costs using equipment and software costing no more than $1,500. Their only limitation being was my own technical ineptitude (the learning curve is every bit as steep as in painting). The Croatian artist, Giulio Clovio (Juraj Julije Klović being the Croatian spelling) was a painter who, I'm sure would agree with my initial statement. His particular form of painting, manuscript illumination, which flourish during Medieval times, was a dying art by the middle of the 16th-century when he lived and worked in Rome. Art historians consider him the last great manuscript illuminator.

Bird illustrations from the Farnese Book of Hours, 1536-45, Giulio Clovio
An illustrated manuscript from the 11th-
or early 12th-centuries suggesting the
evolution of such art from its early
I think it's quite possible that manuscript illustration got its start as bored Medieval monks were assigned the task of copying ancient scriptural manuscripts during daylight hours, six days a week, (possibly by candlelight as well). Their only breaks came in time out for eating, sleeping, praying, and going to the bathroom (where they seldom bathed). Their "art" likely began as what we'd term today as "doodles" in the margins where they relieved the ennui of their work by "decorating" the first letter on each page or paragraph (left). The 11th-century manuscript seen at left may, in fact, may be relatively late in the evolution of such art. Many experts believe it began in Ireland as much as five-hundred years earlier. Clovio's work evolved too. Though born in Croatia in 1498, he headed straight to Rome by the time he was sixteen where he was to study and live for most of the rest of his life. There, during his apprentice years, he admired, the work of Titian, Michelangelo, and Raphael. He may even have known them personally. In Rome, Clovio studied under some of the best "miniaturists" (as they were called at the time) including Marino Grimani. He may have, in fact, set his hand to some of the pages in Grimani's famous Soane Manuscript during the early 1520s.

A page, The Conversion of St. 
Paul, possibly by Clovio, from
Grimani's ca. 1520 Soane Manuscript.
Colonnal Missal, 1512,
Giulio Clovio, one of his
earliest confirmed works.
After a brief foray to Hungary to paint for King Louis II, with stops going and coming at various monasteries along the way, Clovio was back in Rome by 1538 where he latched onto the Farnese household headed by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, the great grandson of Pope Paul III. There, starting around 1537, while living in the Farnese household (not uncommon for exceptional artists at the time), Clovio began working on his most important masterpiece, the Farnese Hours. It was 1546 before he finally finished it. The work contains twenty-eight major illustrations including its famous, double-page spread of the Corpus Christi Procession in Rome.
The Corpus Christie Procession, Rome, 1546, Giulio Clovio from the Farnese Hours.
A page from the Farnese Hours
depicting the Cardinal Farnese
in prayer along the left margin.
The Farnese Book of Hours (an illustrated prayer calendar) also contains images depicting the Nativity titled Adoration of the Shepherds, Adam and Eve, The Fall of Man, The Visit of the Magi, The Crucifixion, Moses Lifting up the Serpent in the Wilderness, the Annunciation to the Shepherds, and Augustus and the Sibyl, all spread across two pages each. There were also thirty-seven additional, decorated single pages. One such page depicts a miniature portrait of the Cardinal in prayer (left) along the left margin. Other pages were decorated with flora and fauna of the time with little or no reference to scriptural text. Illuminators were expected to decorate as well as illustrate. Though theoretically intended to aid the owner's spiritual life, such exquisitely illustrated books were often displayed, open to an exceptional double-page image, to be admired much like any other work of art. Books of Hours largely went out of style with the growing interest in humanism and the passing of the Renaissance. Also, the advent of the printing press shifted such art away from miniature painting (other than portraits) toward etchings and woodcuts much as photography came to free painting from the bonds of realism.

The Adoration of the Shepherds (left) and The Fall of Man (right),
1546, Farnese Hours, Giulio Clovio.
Clovio went on to illuminate the Towneley Lectionary, also for Alesandro Farnese, in which he depicts the lives of the evangelists as well as a Nativity, the Resurrection, and a Last Judgment. Clovio is said to have been a good friend of Germany's Pieter Bruegel the Elder and a mentor to the ;much younger El Greco, who painted a portrait of Clovio a few years before his elderly idol died in 1578 (detail at top). Giorgio Vasari, discussing Clovio in his Lives of the Artists, refers to him as "...the most important illuminator of all times." Clovio's Farnese Hours now rests at the Morgan Library in New York. Clovio's remains now rest within sight of the work of one of his idols, Michelangelo's famous Moses, located in the Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli (in chains) in Rome.
Speedbump by Dave Coverly, 2010


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