Giulio Romano

Giulio Romano (ca 1499? – November 1, 1546) was an Italian painter, architect, and decorator. He was a prime pupil of Raphael. His deviations from high Renaissance classicism helped define the 16th century style called Mannerism. Giulio’s drawings have always been treasured by collectors, and the contemporary engravings after his drawings and paintings by Marcantonio Raimondi and others helped spread 16th century Italian style throughout Europe.

In Rome, as a young assistant in Raphael’s, Giulio worked on many frescoes in the Vatican loggias (from designs by Raphael) and in Raphael’s Stanze of the Vatican a group of figures in the “Fire in the Borgo” fresco, and also collaborated on the decoration of the ceiling of the Villa Farnesina. After the death of Raphael in 1520, he helped complete the frescoes of the life of Constantine in the Vatican as well as Raphael’s Coronation of the Virgin and the Transfiguration in the Vatican. In Rome, Giulio decorated the Villa Madama for Cardinal Giuliano de’ Medici, afterwards Clement VII.

With the sack of Rome in 1527 and the death of Leo X, art patronage in Rome slackened. Vasari tells how Baldassare Castiglione was delegated by Federico Gonzaga, duke of Mantua, to procure Giulio to execute paintings and architectural and engineering projects, most famously the Palazzo del Te, just outside the city, with its famous illusionistic frescos (ca 1525 – 1535). He also rebuilt the ducal palace in Mantua, reconstructed the cathedral, and designed the nearby Church of San Benedetto. Sections of Mantua that had been flood-prone were handsomely rebuilt under Giulio’s direction, and the duke’s patronage and friendship never faltered: Giulio’s annual income amounted to more than 1000 ducats. Around him and his studio was established a school of art.

In Renaissance tradition, many works of Giulio’s were only temporary:

“When Charles V came to Mantua, Giulio, by the duke’s order, [Giulio] made many fine arches, scenes for comedies and other things,in which he had no peer, no one being !ike him for masquerades, and making curious costumes for jousts, feasts, tournaments, which excited great wonder in the emperor and in all present. For the city of Mantua at various times he designed temples, chapels, houses, gardens, facades, and was so fond of decorating them that, by his industry, he rendered dry, healthy and pleasant places previously miry, full of stagnant water,and almost uninhabitable.”

– Vasari, Vita

Giulio also designed tapestries and the erotic album I Modi which was expertly engraved by Raimondi, a project that landed him in jail in Rome.

In 1546, just as he was appointed architect to St. Peter’s, Giulio Romano died.

Well-known paintings:

  1. The Stoning of St. Stephen (Santo Stefano, Genoa): “Giulio never did a finer work than this,” said Vasari. Domenico del Barbiere engraved the subject, so that it influenced designers who never saw the original in Genoa.
  2. Adoration of the Magi (Louvre).

Giulio Romano has the distinction of being the only renaissance artist to be mentioned by William Shakespeare. In Act IV, Scene II of The Winter’s Tale Queen Hermione’s statue is by “that rare Italian master, Julio Romano”, although Giulio was not a sculptor.


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