Giovanni Lanfranco
Biography of High Baroque Painter: Rome, Neapolitan School.

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Assumption of the Virgin (1625-27)
Duomo of S. Andrea della Valle,

Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647)


Early Life
Leading Fresco Painter in Rome
Signature Baroque Style
The Assumption of the Virgin
Neapolitan School of Painting

See also: Classicism and Naturalism in Italian 17th Century Painting.

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Best Artists of All Time.

For a guide to oils, see:
Oil Painting.


Inspired by Correggio and Annibale Carracci, Lanfranco ranks alongside Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669) and Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) (1591-1666) as one of the leading Old Masters of High Baroque painting in Rome. He is best known for modifying the prevailing style of Bolognese school classicism by combining it with the chiaroscuro of the new Caravaggism, and the more painterly idiom of Correggio (1489-1534). A master of trompe l'oeil decoration, foreshortening and other illusionist techniques of architectural art, as well as easel works, he had a very strong influence on painting in Naples, inspiring Baroque artists like Mattia Preti (1613-99), Luca Giordano (1634-1705), and Francesco Solimena (1657-1747). Among Lanfranco's best Baroque paintings are masterpieces like The Assumption of the Virgin (1625-7) in the duomo of S. Andrea della Valle in Rome; the altar fresco of the Navicella (1627-28) in St Peters, Rome; the cupola of the Gesu Nuovo (1634-36) in Naples; the fresco of the Cappella del Tesoro, in Naples Cathedral (1643); St Mary Magdalen Transported to Heaven (c.1605, Capodimonte Museum, Naples) and The Ecstasy of the Blessed Margaret of Cortona (1622, Pitti Palace, Florence).



Early Training

Born in Parma, though not a member of the Parma School of painting, Lanfranco was first trained in painting by Agostino Carracci in Parma (until 1597 and 1600-02). After Agostino's death in 1602, the Duke of Parma sent Lanfranco to the workshop of Annibale Carracci (1560-1609) in the Palazzo Farnese, Rome, and Lanfranco's first independent work was the decoration of the Camerino degli Eremiti in the Palazzina Farnese (1605). On Annibale's recommendation he entered the service of the Marchese Cardinal Sannesi and then worked for Cardinal Montalto, the powerful nephew of Pope Sixtus V. About 1610, still mainly influenced by Annibale, he also worked for the nephew of Pope Paul V, Cardinal Borghese (S. Gregorio, S. Sebastiano) and for the pope himself. On Annibale's death in 1609 he returned to Emilia and worked for two years in Piacenza, where he received numerous commissions for altarpiece art. They show a radical, if temporary, stylistic change under the influence of Ludovico Carracci (1555-1619) and Schedoni.

Leading Fresco Painter in Rome

He returned to Rome in 1611, where the artistic scene was dominated by Guido Reni (1575-1642) (until 1614) and Domenichino (1581-1641), and it took Lanfranco several years to establish himself. But by 1616 he was one of the chief painters at the Quirinal Palace (Sala Regia) and in 1619 Paul V gave him what would have been, had it not been cancelled after the Pope's sudden death, the largest public commission of the day: the decoration of the Benediction Loggia in St. Peter's Basilica.

Signature Baroque Style

By 1615-17 Lanfranco had abandoned his Lodovichian style; working in the circle of the Caravaggisti nobilitati like Sarceni, Orazio Gentileschi and Turchi and influenced by artists like Borgianni, he created a highly refined, elegant manner, working with subtle chiaroscuro and tenebrism, producing a new unity of space through atmospheric effects. It is this particular phase of his work, during which he created his own unique style of Baroque art, that influenced not only the French master Simon Vouet (1590-1649), but also the early Caravaggist Battistello Caracciolo (1578-1635), who arrived in Rome at that time. Lanfranco was then the most advanced artist in the city, and he might have retained his position if Paul V had not died in 1621. But Gregory XV's brief reign brought Guercino to Rome, and Domenichino into particular favour. Around 1620 Lanfranco's style began to change, becoming more robust, the figures beginning to expand dynamically into the space with more violent chiaroscuro contrasts. The most important works of this phase, a prelude to his fully mature Baroque style, are the Sacchetti chapel in S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini (1623-24) and a number of stylistically related altarpieces.

The Assumption of the Virgin

The decoration of the Cappella del Sacramento in S. Paolo fuori le Mura and the fresco of the loggia vault in the Casino Borghese (both 1624-25) lead on to Lanfranco's most important mature works, in which his dramatic Baroque style became fully developed: The Assumption of the Virgin (1625-7) for the cupola fresco in S. Andrea della Valle, where Correggio's illusionism - see for example the Assumption of the Virgin (Parma Cathedral) (1526-30) - is transposed into the language of the Baroque, and the altar fresco painting of the Navicella (1627-28) in St Peters. This was his most important papal commission from Urban VIII, together with the frescoes of the Cappella del Crocefisso in St Peter's (1629-32) and the high altar of the Cappuccini.

The Baroque Idiom
For more about this style, see Baroque Architecture (1600-1750) and Baroque Architects.

Neapolitan School of Painting

But by now Lanfranco was eclipsed by the leading Italian Baroque artists of the Barberini court - Bernini, Sacchi and Cortona. He received far fewer public commissions and consequently willingly accepted the invitation of the Jesuits in Naples to paint the huge cupola of the Gesu Nuovo (1634-36), thus following in the footsteps of his Bolognese colleague and rival Domenichino, who had gone to Naples in 1631. The Gesu Nuovo was the first of a series of vast commissions that made him, during the 15 years of his stay there, the most successful fresco painter in Naples; they included the nave vault, lunettes of the interior facade, lunettes of the presbytery at S. Martino (1637-39), frescoes throughout the church of SS Apostoli, excluding the cupola (1638-44), and the cupola fresco of the Cappella del Tesoro, in the Cathedral (1643), which Domenichino had failed to paint. He was also involved (with Domenichino, Camassei and Romanelli) in fulfilling the Spanish viceroy's commission of pictures with scenes from ancient Roman life, for the Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid. Among his contribution of six canvases was Roman Gladiators Fighting at a Banquet (1634-7, Prado). Finally, he shared in the decoration of the cathedral at Pozzuoli (c.1635-50) with the large canvas featuring The Landing of St. Paul in Pozzuoli (1636-40). All this made him one of the most influential artists in the Neapolitan School of Painting of the first half of the 17th century. Among those influenced by him was Carlo Maratta (1625-1713). the great Catholic Counter-Reformation painter in Rome.

Neapolitan School
For more about painting in Naples, see:
Caravaggio (1571-1610); Caravaggio in Naples (1607-10)
and Jusepe Ribera (1591-1652).

In 1646 Lanfranco returned to Rome, where he painted his last major work, in S. Carlo ai Catinari. In his Neapolitan works he developed his mature Roman style further and was stylistically ahead of his time. His work had a strong impact, not so much on his immediate contemporaries, but on the leaders of Neapolitan Baroque painting, following the Naples plague of 1656: these included Giordano, Preti and, later on, Solimena. His direct followers were Giacinto Brandi in Rome and Giovanni Battista Beinaschi in Naples.

Paintings by Giovanni Lanfranco can be seen in some of the best art museums in Europe, including the Capodimonte Museum, Naples.

• For more biographical details about Baroque painters, see: Homepage.
• For an evaluation of important Renaissance and Baroque frescoes, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed.

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