Giovanni Lanfranco was born in 1582. Throughout his career he was an avid student of Correggio (1489/1494-1534), whose works he encountered in his native Parma. From 1597 to 1598 and again from 1600 to 1602, Lanfranco was apprenticed to Agostino Carracci (1577-1602), who was then painting in the Palazzo del Giardino, Parma. At Agostino's death, Lanfranco was sent by Ranuccio I Farnese, Duke of Parma and Piacenza, to study with Annibale Carracci (1560-1609) in Rome.
There Lanfranco collaborated initially with the other Carracci students on the wall frescoes in the Gallery of the Palazzo Farnese. In 1605 he was commissioned to decorate the Camerino degli Eremiti, also in the Palazzo Farnese, the first of many commissions from important Roman families. Lanfranco's first decade in Rome marked the inception of a personal, if rather erratic, style; this was grounded in the principles taught by the Carracci, as Bellori recounted, especially those of Annibale's severe Roman manner, but tempered by an underlying Correggesque lyricism and by strong reminiscences of Correggio in the features, gestures, and poses of individual figures.
In 1610 Lanfranco returned to Emilia for a brief stay of two years, during which he received several altar commissions in Piacenza. His style quickly reflected an intense study of Lodovico Carracci (1555-1619) and Bartolomeo Schedoni (1578-1615). He also renewed his study of Correggio's frescoes in Parma. From this model Lanfranco developed his seemingly effortless abilities as a ceiling painter; as he told Bellori, "the air painted for him."
After returning to Rome in late 1612, Lanfranco slowly reestablished his contacts among the major Roman patrons, and soon established himself as one of the most productive and inventive frescoists of the day. In 1616 he decorated the Buongiovanni Chapel in Sant'Agostino. Close ties to the Borghese brought him several significant commissions during the reign of Pope Paul V Borghese, the most important of which was the extensive decoration of the Benediction Loggia in St. Peter's (not executed).
Chief among Lanfranco's major commissions of the 1620s was the dome of Sant'Andrea della Valle, in which he employed the Correggesque illusionism of the Buongiovanni Chapel on a monumental scale, and thus established this as the predominant format for dome frescoes into the eighteenth century. He also received several significant commissions from Pope Urban VIII Barberini, including the Navicella altar (1627-1628) and the Chapel of the Crucifixion in St. Peter's (1629-1632). The 1620s saw the development of what is considered Lanfranco's mature, "baroque" style, with strong chiaroscuro effects and expansive, energetic figures.
While Lanfranco's success brought him election as Principe of the Accademia di San Luca in 1631, major commissions fell increasingly to the younger artists favored by the court of Urban VIII Barberini. In 1633 Lanfranco gladly accepted the invitation of the Jesuits to decorate the cupola of the Gesù Nuovo in Naples. Over the next thirteen years he received most of the important decorative commissions in Naples, leaving him little time for easel paintings. Bellori, who praised and even defended Lanfranco's seemingly effortless facility, noted that in executing so many vast decorative cycles the artist fell into mere unreasoned practice and thus, as others had observed, painted below his abilities.
Passeri related that Lanfranco was not much given to teaching by precepts, preferring to let his works speak for themselves. The artist's workshop, necessary for the execution of large fresco cycles, produced few students of note other than François Perrier (1590-1650), who worked as Lanfranco's assistant from 1625 to 1629 and took the master's style back to France. Lanfranco's frescoes, and particularly his domes, were of great significance for the subsequent development of fresco decoration in Italy and elsewhere. In Naples Lanfranco had little impact on artists during his lifetime, but he was very important for younger painters such as Mattia Preti (1613-1699), Luca Giordano (1634-1705), and Francesco Solimena (1657-1747). Lanfranco died in Rome in 1647. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Passeri, Giovanni Battista. Die Künstlerbiographien von Giovanni Battista Passeri. Edited by Jacob Hess. Leipzig and Vienna, 1934: 138-163.
Bellori, Giovan Pietro. Le vite de' pittori scultori e architetti moderni. (Rome, 1672) Edited by Evelina Borea. Turin, 1976: 377-396.
Bernini, Giovanni-Pietro. Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647). Parma, 1982; revised edition, 1985.
Schleier, Erich. "Giovanni Lanfranco." In The Age of Correggio and the Carracci. Exh. cat. Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Washington, 1986: 483-494.
Schleier, Erich. "Lanfranco, Giovanni." In La pittura in Italia: Il seicento. 2 vols. Milan, 1989: 2:780-781.
De Grazia, Diane, and Eric Garberson, with Edgar Peters Bowron, Peter M. Lukehart, and Mitchell Merling. Italian Paintings of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 101-102.