An important pupil and assistant to the great Raphael (1483 – 1520), Romano went on to formulate his own impressive influence on Mannerism. Born in Rome, he entered Raphael’s studio at a young age, working on many of the master’s important works there. This included contributions to Raphael’s frescos in the Vatican Loggias and the Stanze di Raffaello (Raphael’s Rooms), as well as his ceiling frescos in Agostino Chigi’s Villa Farnesina.
When Raphael died, Romano was given the honor of completing some of his studio’s unfinished commissions. This included, Vision of the Cross and The Battle at Pons Milvius from the fresco series depicting the life of Constantine in the Vatican, as well as Coronation of the Virgin, and Transfiguration. Romano then began to develop his own style in Rome, described as anticlassical, with works such as Madonna and Saint in the Santa Maria dell ‘Anima and in Genoa with the Stoning of Saint Stephen in the church of San Stefano, both in 1523. The latter work was engraved by other artists and thus became influential in helping spread Italian Mannerism throughout Europe.
Romano moved on from Rome to find his artistic zenith in Mantua, at the invitation of the Duke, Federico II of Gonzaga (1500 – 1540). Commissioned for paintings, architecture and engineering, Romano’s greatest work here was the Duke’s summer palace, the Palazzo del T (Palazzo del Te) or the Palazzo Te. Described as a pleasure palace or Villa Suburbana, the structure was designed by Romano and he also painted the mythological frescos that consumed it’s interiors with brilliant illusionism; often called Mannerism’s most famous fresco. He also helped to engineer the draining of Mantua’s flooding Marshes, and rebuilt the city’s Ducale palace, the cathedral and the church of San Benedetto.
Many of the artist’s works in the Palazzo Te depicted mythological eroticism; paintings that the Italian engraver and printmaker, Marcantonio Raimondi (1480 – 1534) based his famous erotic engravings on, called the I Modi, which he was imprisoned for. These works show Romano as an artist who could mingle the grandest subjects, such as a towering Jupiter hurling Thunderbolts, alongside depictions of the intimacy of love making between mythological characters. Of another intimate nature in Romano’s works were his depictions of the Virgin and Child; Madonna and Child from 1523, and his Virgin with the Child at the Uffizi Gallery.
Romano was a major inclusion in Giorgio Vasari’s Renaissance Biographies, The Lives of the Artists and the artist is the only Renaissance artist mentioned in the works of Shakespeare, who called Romano, “that rare Italian master.”
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