Giovanni Bologna

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GIAMBOLOGNA (Giovanni da Bologna; 15291608)

GIAMBOLOGNA (Giovanni da Bologna; 15291608), Flemish sculptor and architect, active in Italy. Born in Douai, Giambologna received his early training in the shop of Jacques Du Broeucq, a Flemish sculptor, engineer, and minor architect who had spent time in Italy. Probably with his master's encouragement, the young artist traveled around 1551 to Rome, where he made wax and clay sketches after the city's best artworks. Around 1553, while passing through Florence on his way back to Flanders, he met the banker Bernardo Vecchietti, who brought the young sculptor into his household. Through Vecchietti's connections, Giambologna began around 1558 to receive Medici commissions; by 1561, he was a salaried court artist, and soon thereafter he became the dukes' preeminent sculptor. Though he traveled to Bologna in 1562 (to work on his Neptune Fountain), to Rome in 1572 (to study and acquire antiquities), and to Genoa in 1579 (to accept the commission for the Grimaldi family chapel in the subsequently destroyed church of S. Francesco di Castelletto), Giambologna spent most of the remainder of his life in the Tuscan capital.

Giambologna's enormous success and productivity depended in part on his flexibility as an artisthis ability to fulfill commissions ranging from buildings to sugar sculpturesand in part on the talents of the other major sculptors who worked in his shop. Much in demand as a Counter-Reformation artist, Giambologna designed a number of innovative altarpieces, the most important of which was the Altar of Liberty, made for the church of S. Martino in Lucca. Here the sculptor responded to new christocentric devotional currents with a central freestanding marble image of the Risen Savior. Giambologna also designed unified, multimedia decorative programs for several chapels. The best surviving example of these is the Capella Salviati in the church of San Marco in Florence, which the sculptor reoutfitted to promote the relics of S. Antonino, one of that church's most important historical figures.

Better known today than these works are the independent sculptures on secular themes that Giambologna made for the Medici and other clients. These included figures of Venus, of various scales and in various materials, and of Herculesincluding the impressive, monolithic Hercules and the Centaur, formerly at the Canto dei Carnesechi and now in the Loggia de' Lanzi. His most famous statue in this category was and is the Rape of the Sabine Women, commissioned to serve as a pendant to Benvenuto Cellini's Perseus and Medusa in the same loggia. The Sabine cleverly adapted the triumphal themes of the statues that already occupied the piazza to a subject of love and possession. It allowed the duke to identify himself with the statue's hero, even as it, like many of Giambologna's other Florentine public works, avoided direct glorification of the current ruler. Also typical of many of Giambologna's works was the ambiguity of the Sabine 's subject matter; in this case, at least, that ambiguity was deliberate, as it provoked writers to unpack the statue's numerous possible meanings in encomiastic poems.

In addition to these works, Giambologna also designed a number of witty fountains, including a Bacchus, at the end of Florence's Borgo San Jacopo, which poured water from its lifted cup; a Mercury for the Villa Medici in Rome, which represented the flying god as the terminus of a windy exhalation; and the Appenine for the Villa Medici (now Demidoff) at Pratolino, which fused a prisoner type and a grotto format. Much desired, in Giambologna's time, were also the sculptor's smaller statuettes, many of which were produced as multiples, so that they could be acquired by private collectors or sent as diplomatic gifts to foreign courts. Giambologna was also a skilled architect, as is witnessed in his elegant Palazzo Vecchietti and in his design for the facade of Florence's cathedral.

On Giambologna's death, in 1608, he was buried in the extraordinary chapel he had decorated for himself in the Church of the SS. Annunziata, largely using new casts of bronzes he had previously exported to Genoa and Munich. Though this death came just one year before Annibale Carracci's and just two before Caravaggio's, Giambologna, unlike these founders of the "baroque," is usually considered a late sculptural representative of the "mannerist" period. The designation reflects the awkwardness of transferring period styles in painting to sculpture, and of considering the Roman sculpture of Bernini as normative: with figures like Pietro Tacca (15771640) in Tuscany, Francavilla (15481615) in France, and Adriaan de Vries (c. 15461626) in Germany all emulating his inventions, Giambologna's manner, no less than Annibale's or Caravaggio's, remained dominant in Europe well into the seventeenth century.

See also Caravaggio and Caravaggism ; Florence ; Florence, Art in ; Mannerism ; Medici Family .


Avery, Charles. Giambologna: The Complete Sculpture. Mt. Kisco, N.Y., 1987.

Giambologna, 15291608: Sculptor to the Medici. Exh. cat. London, 1978.

Gibbons, Mary Weitzel. Giambologna: Narrator of the Catholic Reformation. Berkeley, 1995.

Michael Cole

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Giovanni Bologna, or Giambologna (jōvän´nē bōlō´nyä, jäm´bōlō´nyä), 1524–1608, Flemish sculptor, whose real name was Jean Bologne or Boulogne. Though born in Douai, France, he trained in Flanders. He is identified chiefly with the Italian Renaissance as one of its greatest sculptors. He lived briefly in Rome before moving to Florence. His masterpiece, Flying Mercury, is in the Bargello, Florence. The Rape of the Sabines (Florence), with its spiraling forms and multiple viewpoints, is one of the finest examples of mannerist sculpture. This work exerted a profound influence on later art. Among his other works are the equestrian statues in Florence of the Medicis, one of Ferdinand I (see Browning's poem "The Statue and the Bust" ) and another of Cosimo I; two fountains in the Boboli Gardens, Florence; the bronze doors of the cathedral in Pisa; a Neptune fountain in Bologna; and the colossal statue Apennines at Pratolino. There are two of Giambologna's elegant statuettes of the Evangelists in the Metropolitan Museum and one at the museum of the Univ. of Kansas.

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Giovanni Bologna: see Bologna, Giovanni.

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Giambologna: see Bologna, Giovanni.