Architecture, Art, Art History, Drawings

A Tribute to the great Francesco Primaticcio on his 508th Birthday

Francesco Primaticcio, Self-Portrait
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy

Francesco Primaticcio (1504-1570) is often omitted from the discussion of Italian mannerist artists, presumably because the majority of his career was spent in France.  His heritage however is wholly Italian, and he passed that heritage on to his French counterparts, whom he strongly influenced for most of the 16th and 17th centuries.  Primaticcio’s talents knew no end.  He was a painter, a draughtsman, an architect, and a decorator skilled in the arts of fresco and stucco.

By the time Francis I (François Premier) ascended the French throne in 1515, the Renaissance had arrived in France. The new king proved to become a major patron of the arts. At the time of his accession, the royal palaces of France were ornamented with only a scattering of great paintings, and not a single piece of sculpture, either ancient or modern. During Francis’ reign the magnificent art collection of the French kings, which can still be seen at the Louvre, was begun.

Francis patronized many great artists of his time, including Andrea del Sarto and Leonardo da Vinci; the latter was persuaded to make France his home during his last years. While Leonardo painted very little during his years in France, he brought with him many of his greatest works, including the Mona Lisa, and these remained in France after his death. Other major artists to receive Francis’ patronage include the goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini, and the painters Rosso Fiorentino, Giulio Romano and Francesco Primaticcio, all of whom were employed in decorating Francis’s various palaces.

Primaticcio, who was born in Bologna on April 30, 1504, worked in Mantua from 1525 or 1526 until 1532 under Giulio Romano. In the Palazzo del Te, Giulio carried out one of the most elaborate programs of mannerist art in all Italy. He represented a series of mythological scenes and motifs in frescoes and stucco reliefs in a decorative style that his teacher, Raphael, had created only a few years earlier.  Primaticcio was responsible for the ceiling decoration in the magnificent Camera degli Stucchi.

In 1532, Francis I called Primaticcio to France to work on the decorations of his royal palace at

Château de Fontainebleau

Fontainebleau. He came equipped with all the things Giulio Romano had taught him: a rich vocabulary of classical nymphs and satyrs and Roman gods and goddesses plus the fashionable new mode of paintings combined with stuccoes. Giorgio Vasari in his Lives states that “the first works of stucco done in France and the first frescoes of any account originated with Primaticcio.”  Primaticcio developed a tradition that set the general direction of French palace decoration for the next 150 years.

In 1541, the King made Primaticcio one of his chamberlains. Three years later he appointed him abbot of St-Martin at Troyes, a position that carried no duties or responsibilities, but rather an abundance of prestige and money. Meanwhile the King commissioned him to decorate one room after another at Fontainebleau with his paintings and stucco figures.

Gradually, under the influence of Parmigianino, Primaticcio’s style began to change. His figures, which until now had had normal proportions, started to become fantastically elongated. Tiny heads appeared on top of long, thin, curving necks. Arms and legs tapered down to tiny hands and feet. These strange creatures lounged languidly and effortlessly in poses that were always elegant though sometimes bizarre. This figure type that Primaticcio created at Fontainebleau was endlessly repeated by French artists throughout the remainder of the 16th century and even into the 17th.

Primaticcio became primarily an architect towards the end of his life.  His most famous works were the circular chapel (the Valois Chapel) for Henry II and his wife, Catherine de Médicis at the Abbey of Saint-Denis (1560) and the wing known as the Aile de la Belle Cheminée (1568) which he added to the palace at Fontainebleau. The Abbey of Saint-Denis was tragically destroyed in 1719.

Primaticcio died in Paris sometime between May 15 and Sept. 14, 1570.  [Gale]

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Here follow examples of Primaticcio’s work in fresco, stucco, painting and drafting.

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Francesco Primaticcio, Gallery of King Francis I, Stucco and Frescoes
Château de Fontainebleau

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Francesco Primaticcio, Château Fontainebleau, Stuccos and Frescoes
Fontainebleau, France

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Francesco Primaticcio, Escalier du Roi (King’s Staircase), Detail of Stucco
Château de Fontainebleau

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Francesco Primaticcio, Royal Abbey of Chaalis, Vault of the Apse
Fontaine-Chaalis, Oise, France

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Francesco Primaticcio, Royal Abbey of Chaalis, Vault of the Nave
Fontaine-Chaalis, Oise, France

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Francesco Primaticcio, Royal Abbey of Chaalis, Fresco “The Annunciation”
Fontaine-Chaalis, Oise, France

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Francesco Primaticcio, “The Holy Family with St Elizabeth and John the Baptist”
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

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Francesco Primaticcio, “Ulysses and Penelope”, ca. 1545, Oil on canvas
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio

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Francesco Primaticcio, “Danae”, 1533-1540
Château de Fontainebleau

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Francesco Primaticcio, Study for Fresco of the Banquet of the Gods,
New York Public Library, New York, New York

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Francesco Primaticcio, Italian, 1504-1570
Fortitude (Study for the “Cabinet du roi” (King’s Study), 1541/1545
The Art Institute of Chicago

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Francesco Primaticcio, Draped Figure, Sanguine Heightened with White Gouache, ca. 1550’s
Musée du Louvre

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Francesco Primaticcio, “The Masquerade of Persepolis”, 1541-45
Musée du Louvre, Paris

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Francesco Primaticcio, Centaur and Lapith, ca. 1540
The J. Paul Getty Museum

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Francesco Primaticcio, Scenes from the Story of Proserpina and other subjects
Musée du Louvre

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Francesco Primaticcio, God the Father Supported by Angels
Musée du Louvre

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Francesco Primaticcio, Saturn Standing
Musée du Louvre

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Francesco Primaticcio, Diana and her Nymphs at the Bath
Musée du Louvre

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Francesco Primaticcio, Warrior in Antique Garb
Musée du Louvre

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Discussion

3 thoughts on “A Tribute to the great Francesco Primaticcio on his 508th Birthday

  1. Very nice posting … thanks for publishing.

    Posted by Nord Wennerstrom | April 30, 2012, 9:50 am
    • Thank you, Nord. I could look at Primaticcio’s drawings for weeks on end! His name seems to get lost in the shuffle, but he was mightily responsible for bringing the Italian renaissance to France, and ensuring its lasting influence. His work is instantly recognizable and always brings a smile to my face.

      Posted by elliottingotham | April 30, 2012, 10:38 pm
  2. nice info… thanks for sharing…

    Posted by dony | June 16, 2012, 11:31 am

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