Sunday, 13 October 2013


“Painting is the grandchild of nature. It is related to God.” – Rembrandt

Giorgio Giulio Clovio or Juraj Julije Klović (1498 – January 5, 1578) was an illuminator, miniaturist, and painter born in Kingdom of Croatia, who was mostly active in Renaissance Italy. He is considered the greatest illuminator of the Italian High Renaissance, and arguably the last very notable artist in the long tradition of the illuminated manuscript, before some modern revivals.

Giulio Clovio was born in Grižane, a village near the town of Modruš in Kingdom of Croatia. He came from a Croatian family and while it is not known where he had his early training, he probably studied art with monks at Fiume of Novi Bazar when he was young. He moved to Italy at the age of 18 years and entered the household of Cardinal Marino Grimani where he trained as a painter. Between 1516 and about 1523 Clovio may have lived with Marino in the residence of the latter’s uncle Cardinal Domenico Grimani in Rome.

Clovio studied under Giulio Romano during this early period. He also studied under Girolamo dai Libri. While a protégé of Cardinal Domenico Grimani, Clovio engraved medals and seals for him, as well as executing the Grimani Commentary manuscript, an important early illuminated book (now Sir John Soane’s Museum, London).

By 1524 Clovio was at Buda, at the Hungarian court of King Louis II, for whom he painted the “Judgment of Paris” and “Lucretia”. After Louis’ death in the Battle of Mohács, Clovio returned to Rome where he continued his career. After 1527 he visited several monasteries of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine. In 1534 Clovio returned to the household of Cardinal Marino Grimani. A year later Clovio may have followed Marino when the latter was appointed as a papal legate to Perugia, where Clovio is thought to have worked on illustrations for the Soane Manuscript written by Marino Grimani around that time.

Clovio went back to Rome by the end of 1538 when he is known to have met with the writer Francisco de Hollanda. Clovio later became a member of the household of Alessandro Farnese with whom he would be associated until his death. It was during his time with Farnese that Clovio created one of his masterpieces, the “Farnese Hours”. Other well-known works from this period include the illustrations for the Towneley Lectionary.

From 1551 to 1553 Clovio is known to have worked in Florence. During this time he painted a miniature of Eleanor of Toledo (England, Walbeck Abbey, Private Collection). Clovio was a friend of the much younger El Greco, the celebrated Greek artist from Crete, who later worked in Spain, during El Greco’s early years in Rome. Greco painted two portraits of Clovio; one shows the four painters whom he considered as his masters; in this Clovio is side by side with Michelangelo, Titian and Raphael. Clovio was also known as the “Michelangelo of the Miniature”. Books with Clovio’s miniatures became famous primarily due to his skilled illustrations. He was persuasive in transferring the style of Italian high Renaissance painting into the miniature format.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder was a personal friend of Giulio Clovio, and stayed with Clovio in Rome during his Italian trip of 1553. Breugel executed a small medallion depicting ships in a storm on a Clovio miniature of the Last Judgment (New York Public Library) but the six Bruegels, mentioned in Clovio’s will, unfortunately have all disappeared.

The Farnese Hours is an illuminated manuscript created by Giulio Clovio for cardinal Alessandro Farnese in 1546. Considered the masterpiece of Clovio, the book of hours is now in the possession of the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City. It contains religious stories (both Biblical and apocryphal), and illustrations with architectural borders and classical nudes. Clovio sometimes exceeded the limitations of his medium in attempts to sustain the art of illumination. His approach ends to the monumental, despite the small scale of the works he was executing.