26 April 2021

Gian Paolo Lomazzo - artist

Painter became leading art historian and critic of the 16th century

Lomazzo's Madonna and the Saints
in the church of San Marco, Milan)
Gian Paolo Lomazzo, a talented painter who went blind when he was 33 and turned to writing instead, was born on this day in Milan in 1538.

He became an expert on the work of Leonardo da Vinci and was given unique access to the artist’s own written work.

Lomazzo, whose first name is sometimes given as Giovan or Giovanni, was born into a family who had just moved to Milan from the town of Lomazzo in the province of Como in Lombardy.

He began training as a painter early in his life with the artists Gaudenzio Ferrari and Giovan Battista della Cerva in Milan.

By 1567 Lomazzo had painted a large Allegory of the Lenten Feast for the Church of Sant’ Agostino in Piacenza. Other notable works by him include an elaborate fresco of a dome with Glory of Angels and a painting depicting The Fall of Simon Magus for the Cappella Foppa in the Church of San Marco in Milan.

Lomazzo was so admired as an artist that the sculptor and medallist Annibale Fontana depicted him on a medallion in 1562.

But by 1571 Lomazzo had become blind and could no longer paint. He adapted to writing about art instead and produced two complex treatises that are regarded as milestones in the development of art criticism.

His first work, completed in 1584, Trattato dell’arte della pittura, scultura e architettura, is in part a guide to decorum, contemporary concepts of good taste, which the Renaissance inherited in part from Antiquity. It has been described as the Bible of Mannerism and Lomazzo’s writing made him a central figure in the development of Italian Mannerist theories.

His 1590 work, Idea del tempio della pittura, explained the role of individuality in judgment and artistic invention.

Lomazzo's self-portrait, painted in about 
1568, is in the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan
Lomazzo took into account three aspects of art criticism: doctrina, the discoveries made my artists in the course of history; prattica, the personal preferences of the artist; and iconography, the literary element in art. He systematically extracted abstract concepts from art, rather than just recounting the marvels of the works of famous artists in the manner of Giorgio Vasari. He is regarded by historians as a very reliable chronicler of the period and he gave detailed practical instruction on the creation of art.

He is reputed to have had a large collection of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci and he spent years amassing every fact that was known about Leonardo.

He wrote about Leonardo: ‘Whenever he began to paint, it seemed that Leonardo trembled, and he never finished any of the works he commenced because, so sublime was his idea of art, he saw faults even in the things that to others seemed miracles.’

Leonardo’s protégé and heir, Francesco Melzi, gave Lomazzo access to the maestro’s own writings.

Scholars have taken from what Lomazzo wrote about the creation of the picture of Mona Lisa, that Leonardo painted two almost identical portraits of the subject, one called Mona Lisa and the other called La Gioconda.

Lomazzo also wrote poetry and had a number of pupil painters during his career, including the artists Giovanni Ambrogio Figino and Cristoforo and Girolamo Ciocca.

Lomazzo died in 1592, at the age of 53, in Milan. His self-portrait, painted in about 1568, is in the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan.

The Arch of Peace in the town of Lamozzo
The Arch of Peace
in the town of Lomazzo
Travel tip:

Lomazzo in Lombardy, where Gian Paolo Lomazzo’s family originated, is about halfway between Como and Milan. The historic centre of the town was built upon a hill. The Church of San Siro, built in 1732 in the town, houses a 16th century panel by Morazzone depicting the Adoration of the Magi. In 1286, the town witnessed the signing of one of several peace treaties between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, not all of them successful, and this one was marked by the construction of an Arch of Peace in front of the Church of San Siro.

The Church of San Marco in Milan, which has frescoes by Lomazzo
The Church of San Marco in Milan,
which has frescoes by Lomazzo
Travel tip:

The Church of San Marco in Milan, which has frescoes by Gian Paolo Lomazzo, dates back to the 13th century. It was dedicated to Saint Mark, the patron saint of Venice, after the help given by the city in the war against Frederick Barbarossa in the 12th century. The building was modified in the Baroque style during the 17th century and became the largest church in Milan after the Duomo.  In early 1770, the young Mozart resided in the monastery of San Marco for three months and in 1874, the Milanese poet and novelist Alessandro Manzoni was commemorated in the church by the first performance of Verdi's Requiem, written in his honour.

Also on this day:

1575: The birth of Maria de’ Medici, Queen of France

1925: The birth of Michele Ferrero, the chocolatier who invented Nutella spread

1977: The birth of astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti

(Picture credits: Arch of Peace by Alberto Monti; Church of San Marco by MarkusMark via Wikimedia Commons)

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