Battista Franco (Biographical details)

Battista Franco (printmaker; painter/draughtsman; Italian; Male; c.1510 - 1561)

Also known as

Franco, Battista; Semolei, Giovanni Battista; Franco, Giovanni Battista

Biography

Draughtsman, painter and etcher. Battista Franco, called Il Semolei, b. presumably Venice (he sometimes signs himself "Veneziano"), probably c. 1510, d. there 1561. According to Bartsch, who without explanation gives F.'s birth-place as Udine, some authorities give his birth-date as 1498, others as 1510. The latter date, or one even later, seems to us more likely, since Vasari, who knew him well and from whose 'vita' this account is mainly summarised, says he was aged 20 when he came to Rome, where, after spending some time making drawings, mostly after Michelangelo, he helped Raffaello da Montelupo with the temporary decoration of the Ponte Sant'Angelo for the entry of Charles V (5 Apr. 1536). As a result, he was for the same occasion, independently commissioned to decorate the Porta Capena (now San Sebastiano) with scenes from Roman history (fully described in V. Forcella, 'Tornei e giostre, ingressi trionfali e feste carnevalesche in Roma sotto Paolo III', Rome, 1885, pp. 42ff.). Vasari emphasises that these were his first paintings. Accompanied R. da Montelupo to Florence to carry out decorations for Charles V's entry there (28 Apr. 1536) and, in June, assisted Vasari with 'apparato' for entry of Margaret of Austria. In Florence came to know Genga, Ammannati and Ridolfo Ghirlandaio. Entered service of Cosimo de' Medici, for whom he painted 'Battle of Montemurlo' (2 Aug. 1537), now Pitti, and decorations for entry of Leonora of Toledo (June 1539).
Returned to Rome just when Michelangelo's 'Last Judgment' was unveiled (31 Oct. 1541) and received the commission from Mgr Giovanni della Casa for the 'Arrest of the Baptist' in Oratorio of S. Giovanni Decollato (see Pp,2.121). F. then went to Urbino at request of Duke Guidobaldo II to decorate the vault of the choir of the Cathedral ('Coronation of Virgin' with Prophets, Saints, etc.). A letter of 3 Aug. 1546 from the Duke thanking the Duchess for telling him that the "capella d'Urbino" will soon be finished may refer to this commission (Gronau, doc. clxxxv). Vasari gives a detailed description of the vault (destroyed by earthquake in 1780s), which he probably saw in Feb. or May 1548 (Frey, 'Nachlass', p. 205). A document of 7 Dec. 1551(Gronau, doc. clxxxvi) implies that the decoration was completed, but that the Duke (who according to Vasari was dissatisfied with the result) was delaying payment. It also refers to drawings for the "capella del Corpo di Christo" (i.e. del Sacramento), the decoration of which had not been begun, but where scaffolding, etc., had been erected, and to "40 historié" for maiolica (see 1860,0616.39). Vasari makes it clear that this last commission was thought by the Duke to be more suited to F.'s talent. F. also executed canvases of 'Flagellation' and 'Resurrection', now in sacristy, Urbino Cathedral (Rearick, figs. 1, 2). According to Baglione (p. 133), F. was an early master of Barocci. Sept. 1547 in Osimo, where he contracted to paint polyptych of 14 panels for Cathedral (Salomoni, pp. 237ff, figs. 319-32). Fabriano, S. Venanzio, 'Virgin and Child with Saints' (ibid., n. 18, fig. 333).
F. assisted Genga with temporary decorations for entry into Urbino of Duke Guidobaldo and Vittoria Farnese after their marriage (2 Feb. 1548), then went to Rome where he designed stage-settings in collaboration with Ammannati. 1550 (Vasari), with Siciolante (q.v.) frescoed arms of Julius III on façade of the palace of Cardinal Federico Cesi. "E quella finita", decorated Gabrielli Chapel, 4th on r., in S. M. sopra Minerva: 'Adoration of Shepherds and Resurrection' on side walls (see also Muziano), lunettes above each containing a Prophet and Sibyl (Salomoni, figs. 334-7), and Evangelists and scenes from the life of Virgin and Christ on vault (all repr. Da Como p. 37, as Muziano; studies by F. for 'Adoration of Magi', Gaston, figs. 1, 4, and SL,5237.86).
Canvas, 'Christ falling under Cross', formerly Manfrin coll., s. and d. 1552 (Rearick, p. 113, n. 43, fig. 3). Vasari implies that not long after his activity in S. M. sopra Minerva, F. went to Venice, where he remained. Documented as living there by Nov. 1554 (Hadeln, 'Italienische Forschungen', pp. 98f.). S. Francesco della Vigna, Barbaro chapel, 5th on r., Baptism (Rearick, fig. 4), commissioned soon after his arrival (Vasari); studies in Edinburgh (Andrews, 1590, 1591). 1556-7, Fondaco dei Tedeschi, ceiling decoration, six of original 48 panels now Correr (Rearick, p. 119, fig. 8). 1556 onwards, work in Libreria: three ceiling roundels and, according to Vasari, two Philosophers on walls (see T,12.25), also decoration of vault of lower flight of staircase in interstices of Vittoria's 'stucchi' (F. Sansovino, 'Venetia città nobilissima ...', Venice, 1581). Palazzo Ducale, Grotesques and small allegorical figures similarly in interstices of Vittoria's 'stucchi' on vault of Scala d'Oro (staircase inscribed 1558, but painting still incomplete at end of 1561, see N. Ivanoff, 'Critica d'arte', viii 1 (1961), 47, pp. 27ff.). He made prints throughout his career. (For other drawings see BL Add.Ms.5259 nos 20,21,76)
F. at his death in 1561 had completed only the vault of the Grimani Chapel, 1st on l. in S. Francesco della Vigna (walls and altarpiece by F. Zuccaro: see Rearick, pp. 122ff., figs. 10-12) and had not yet finished the frescoed decoration of the Villa Malcontenta (Palladio, 'I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura', Venice, 1570, ii, p. 50). Rearick (fig. 9) attributes to F. a lunette in salone of Palazzo Grimani at S. M. Formosa with scenes from 'History of Coriolanus'.

Bibliography

Bartsch XVI pp.111-160 (93 nos)
Gere & Pouncey 1983
D. von Hadeln, Italienische Forschungen herausgegeben vom Kunsthistorischen Institut in Florenz, iv: Archivalische Beiträge zur Geschichte der venezianischen Kunst aus dem Nachlass Gustav Ludwigs, Berlin, 1911, pp. 83ff.; Thieme-Becker (1916) with previous bibliography; W.R. Rearick, 'Battista Franco and the Grimani Chapel', Saggi e memorie di storia dell'arte, ii (1958-9), pp. 105ff.; J. Michalkowa, 'Un quadro di Battista Franco in una raccolta polacca', Bulletin du Musée National de Varsovie, v (1964), 3-4, pp. 104ff. (i.e. Mythological Scene in Posnan, for which Albertina Cat. i, no. 135, is a study); L.G. Salomoni, 'Battista Franco nelle Marche', Arte Veneta, xxvi (1972), pp. 237ff.; J. Lessman, 'Battista Franco disegnatore di maioliche', Faenza, (1976), ii, pp. 27ff.; R. Gaston, 'A drawing by Battista Franco and its Venetian context', Art Bulletin of Victoria, 18 (1977), pp. 25ff.