Giulio Pippi was most probably born in Rome, sometime during the last decade of the century (1492 according to Vasari and 1499 according to C. D’Arco). His training and early works were completed in the atelier of Raffaello Sanzio (Raphael) with whom Giulio worked on some of the master’s most important projects starting from the Vatican rooms. There, after working on the room of the Incendio di Borgo, Romano had a fundamental part in the decoration of the Room of Constantine. He also worked on the Logge and the Loggetta Vaticane, the Villa Farnesina alla Lungara and Villa Madama where he painted grotesques. During his Roman period Giulio also did a series of paintings such as the Lapidation of St. Stephen (Genoa, Santo Stefano), the Madonna of the Cat (Naples, Capodimonte) and the Coronation of Monteluce, that he worked on with Gianfrancesco Penni. Giulio Romano’s hand can also be recognized in another series of paintings he is said to have done with Raphael such as The Holy Family, known as The Pearl (Madrid, Prado), the portrait of Juana of Aragon (Paris, Louvre), the Young Saint John (Florence, Uffizi) and the Holy Family [Under the Oak Tree] (Madrid, Prado). In 1524, through Baldassarre Castiglione, Giulio moved to the court of Federico II Gonzaga in Mantua, where he remained until his death. As the court artist he worked as architect, painter, set designer, prefect or master of construction, designer of tapestries, silver and ephemeral displays and decorators. As an architect he was engaged primarily in the reconstruction of the destroyed villa at Marmirolo and Palazzo Te that was begun in 1524 and completed in just ten years. The pleasure palace, for the prince, Giulio and his helpers decorated Palazzo Te with mythological scenes that allude to Federico Gonzaga’s love for Isabella Boschetti. In 1530 Charles V was a guest, and this episode led to the updating of the decorations in an imperial key and to the frescoes in the dazzling Room of the Giants. During the same period the artist also worked on the Appartamento di Troia [Room of Troy] in the ducal palace, which today is in very poor condition. Prior to 1541 he worked on his own residence and prepared the cartoons for the frescoes in the apse of the cathedral of Verona that were painted by Torbido and for the apse of the church of the Steccata in Parma.
This completely independent painting dates from the period that Giulio was spending a great deal of time on Raphael’s works. Although the composition is identical to that of the Madonna of the Rose by the master and a helper, it differs clearly in the setting. Having eliminated the figure of Saint Joseph, Giulio left more space for the original architectural background, a rustic arch of triumph, while the Virgin, the Child and the young Saint John are more lively and vibrant.
Holy Family [Madonna of the Oak Tree
There seems to be a signature, RAPHAEL PINXIT below the cradle even though it was unfinished when Raphael died and was completed by Giulio some time around 1520. An x-ray of the panel, that is definitely known to have been in Spain in the XVIII century, revealed an underlying drawing that differs from the final version. There is greater delicacy in the renderings of Mary’s face, the bald head of Saint Joseph and the less than full heads of hair on two holy infants. Scholars concur in attributing only the drawing to Raphael and not the final version that is rich in the archeological references and decorative details that were foreign to Raphael and quite typical of Giulio’s style.
Although this painting was never attributed to Raphael, it was greatly inspired by the master’s style. Its name is owed to the fact that Henriette Hertz purchased it on the Rome art market, and it was from her collection that it passed to the Italian Government in 1915. The prototype for the group can be found in the Byzantine iconography of the “Odighitria” with the Child – embraced by his mother - giving a blessing. In the frontal arrangement, however, we can see how much Giulio Romano seems to owe Raphael’s drawings from his Florentine period. Destined for a private room, the scene is set in an interior, a bedroom and corridor that open onto other rooms. These details reveal Romano’s familiarity with Flemish painting.Iconography
Cristo in gloria
Non si conoscono dati precisi sulla committenza del quadro, che, secondo la tradizione, proviene dal convento delle monache di San Paolo di Parma, dove era considerato opera di Raffaello. Fu probabilmente commissionato al maestro, di cui è conservato un disegno per la figura del Cristo (Malibu, The John Paul Getty Museum), derivato dalla Disputa. Il Cristo di Giulio appare più frontale e ieratico rispetto alla figura ideata da Raffaello, ed è circondato da un alone giallo sfumato di rosa, che rompe la coltre di scure nubi, da cui affiorano volti e corpi di putti.
This painting is often considered as having been left unfinished by Raphael and then completed by Giulio Romano even if the lively composition and the attention to the indoor setting do not leave any doubts about Giulio’s hand. The holy scene is witnessed by a large crowd thronging the temple and it is broken by the monumental spiral columns that were certainly inspired by period decorations that Giulio painted during various phases of his career.Iconography
Madonna of the Cat
Vasari mentions this painting because of the cat “that was so natural that it seemed really alive, and so it was called the Picture of the Cat.” Although it has repeatedly been attributed to Giulio and to Raphael, the painting seems to be closely related to the Madonna of the Pearl that was probably done by the master from Urbino. The Madonna of the Cat, however, can be fully attributed to Giulio and it is considered one of his masterpieces. It is the manner of arranging the domestic scene around the holy pyramidal group that distinguishes Giulio’s spatial constructions from those of his teacher. The strongly chiaroscuro scene - that was enhanced by the use of lampblack - is scattered with objects, from the cradle to the edge of the bed, to the beautiful sewing basket where the painter proved himself to be a master of the still-life.
Woman in the Mirror
This painting was mutilated in the eighteenth century when it was cut down to an oval portrait of the woman. The two sections were put back together when the painting became part of The Hermitage collection, in 1840 it was transferred to canvas. Long considered a portrait of Lucrezia Borgia, later critics believed it to be a portrait of Raphael’s famous mistress, La Fornarina, because of the similarities with the painting in Palazzo Barberini. Although the theme of the woman in the mirror was frequent in fifteenth century Venetian painting, it did not reach Rome before the XVI century and this work may be the first example. The iconography is similar to the type that was later disseminated in the Fontainebleau school, an element that could be proof of Giulio’s impact as a disseminator of Raphaelesque style on a European scale. The woman is seated in semi-darkness near her toilette objects, and from an opening in the background we can glimpse a luminous classical loggia with a woman and monkey.
This painting, that may have been done in Rome for Federico Gonzaga, seems to predate Giulio’s departure for Mantua. He brought an erotic and lascivious genre which was fashionable in Rome to that city. Although the painting does have a special relationship with the drawings of the Modes, it does mark an extraordinary chapter in this genre because of its size and pictorial virtuosity that is unparalleled in Italian art. Although it is exhibited in The Hermitage with the “lofty” title of Alexander and Roxana, it does not seem to be based either on ancient history or mythology and perhaps the theme should be sought in Aretino’s circles.
The Wedding of Cupid and Psyche
With the exception of the Sala dei Giganti [Room of the Giants], the Sala di Psiche [Room of Psyche] is probably the most impressive in the Palazzo Te. There are but few extant drawings, done prior to 1527, for this cycle that is based on the Golden Ass by Apuleius. The large room was destined for private parties and banquets and this explains the importance attributed to the wedding banquet of Cupid and Psyche – a happy ending after the difficult trials to which the young girl had been subjected because of the whims of Venus. The decoration seems to be divided into three parts: on the wooden ceiling where there is the painting “viewed from below” of the Wedding of Cupid and Psyche, completed by the octagons and lunettes in the frame; the second part on the south and west walls which is entirely dedicated to the Banquet; and the third part, on the north wall, dedicated to the loves of the gods. In this room, that took three years to decorate, we can follow the stylistic development of Giulio’s first Mantua period. The scene on the west wall is populated with the dynamic, rushing figures that characterized Giulio's work from 1527 on.
Mars and Venus in the Bath
This scene is on the north wall in the Room of Psyche in Palazzo Te, Mantua, and is dedicated to illustrating the loves of the gods. In addition to Mars and Venus we see Bacchus and Ariadne, Polyphemus, Acis and Galatea, Jupiter and Olympia. The room, built for private banquets and celebrations, offers a monumental description of the delights and pleasures of the ancient world where gods and mortals joined in sensual unions. Thus, erotic passion and pleasure are the dominant theme of the decorations throughout the room. They are based primarily on the Legend of the Golden Ass by Apuleius, like the Loggia di Psiche, in the Roman villa of Agostino Chigi on which Giulio Romano worked actively.
Starting in 1536 through 1539 Giulio created a grandiose apartment in the ducal palace in Mantua that was also known as Palazzo di Castello, or di Troia, after the main room. Here Romano picked up the Iliad, the oldest epic poem of antiquity and he scattered the ceiling with portrayals of the heroic battles between gods and men. On the walls, in scenes that are as carefully framed as if they were oil paintings, we see the individual heroic scenes such as the Death of Laocoön. This lavish room was destined to house the ducal collections of antiquities.