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Francesco Francia

Bolognese, c. 1450/1453 - 1517

Raibolini, Francesco; Francia, il

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This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue of Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century:

Francesco di Marco di Giacomo Raibolini, called Francia, had a varied and prolific artistic career. Born in Bologna about 1450/1453, he was trained as a goldsmith (he entered the guild in 1482), and often signed his name with the epithet "aurifaber" or "aurifex." He supervised the minting of coins in Bologna for the ruler Giovanni II Bentivoglio and Popes Julius II and Leo X. Vasari reported that Francia delighted in cutting the dies for his medals--which were equal in quality to those of Caradosso. However, the lack of signatures on the several coins and medals ascribable to Francia leaves their attribution uncertain.

Francia, active as a painter by the mid-1480s, specialized in religious works, particularly altarpieces with the Madonna and Child and saints. He worked mostly in Bologna, especially for Giovanni II Bentivoglio until the leader was overthrown in 1506. He also produced altarpieces for churches in Modena, Ferrara, Parma, and elsewhere. An early datable work is his Madonna and Child with Saints in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna (1494). Later altarpieces are now in San Giacomo Maggiore, Bologna (1499); the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna (1500); and the Galleria Nazionale, Parma (1515). His Madonna del Terremoto of 1505 (Palazzo Comunale, Bologna) is one of his few works in fresco. Of his several surviving portraits, the only precisely datable one is the Portrait of Federigo Gonzaga in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1510).

Francia's training as a painter is undocumented. Lorenzo Costa, who was active in Bologna in the 1480s, was probably among his initial sources of inspiration. In his middle years Francia was strongly influenced by the pious and beautifully crafted art of the Umbrian painter Perugino. Francia's art remained placid, reverent, and simple, in accordance with the stylistic détente that was gaining popularity in Italy by the late 1490s. His verdant landscapes are populated by isolated elegant figures, with little movement or torsion, and his draperies are massive and simple. Despite the emotionalism of such late works as the Deposition in Parma (Galleria Nazionale), Francia painted placid, balanced compositions and sweet figural types through the end of his career.

A chief attraction of Francia's art is his rich and harmonious coloring that, according to Vasari, was so beautiful "that people ran like mad to see it." To Vasari, Francia's choice of resonant, saturated hues over the high-keyed palette of quattrocento painting made his work a precursor of the High Renaissance style. Despite this progressive coloration and the relative softness of handling, Francia's art is marked by somewhat stiff composition and awkward design. The almost certainly apocryphal legend that Francia died after seeing Raphael's Saint Cecilia altarpiece in Bologna epitomizes the critical fortunes of this painter, who was faulted by writers from the sixteenth century on for never having adopted the compositional dynamism and sfumatura of his younger colleagues. The essence of his style was practiced well into the cinquecento by his productive workshop, which included his sons Giulio and Giacomo.

This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue of Renaissance Medals:

One of the leading painters of Bologna, Francia worked for the Bentivoglio and later for the Pope Julius II. He was, however, trained as a goldsmith and signed himself aurifex throughout his life; he worked as a goldsmith and also possibly as a sculptor. Vasari states that he was master of the mint in Bologna under both Bentivoglio and papal rule; documentation survives to substantiate this claim for the mint under Julius II, making the rest of Vasari’s statement likely. Vasari also praises Francia’s skill in making portrait medals not only of Bolognese notables, including the ruler Giovanni II Bentivoglio, but also of visiting dignitaries.

Only the medal of Francesco Alidosi (NGA 1957.14.779.a,b) is now securely attributed to the artist.

Artist Bibliography

Venturi, Adolfo. Storia dell'arte italiana. 11 vols. Milan, 1914: 7, part 3:852-978.
Williamson, George. Francesco Raibolini called Francia. London, 1901.
Gronau, George. "Francesco Francia." In Thieme-Becker 1907-1950, 12:319-323.
Lipparini, Giuseppe. Francesco Francia. Bergamo, 1913.
Hill, George Francis. A Corpus of Italian Medals of the Renaissance before Cellini. 2 vols. London, 1930: 1:154-157.
Faietti, Marzia, and Konrad Oberhuber, eds. Bologna e l'umanesimo, 1490-1510. Exh. cat. Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna, 1988: 254-265, 341-344, 348-350.
Negro, Emilio, and Nicosetta Roio. Francesco Francia e la sua scuola. Mantua, 1998: 85, 94, 203-204, 207, no. 79.
Boskovits, Miklós, and David Alan Brown, et al. Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. The Systematic Catalogue of the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 2003: 283.

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