June 02, 2006

Clovio, and the Farnese Hours

Although the painter Giorgio Giulio Clovio (1498–1578) spent most of his life in Italy, he was born in Croatia: his given name has not been recorded, but was probably Juraj Julije Klović. Clovio first came to Italy at the age of 18, arriving at Venice, where he spent several years in the service of Cardinal Domenico Grimani and the Cardinal’s nephew Marino Grimani. During this period, he visited Rome for the first time, where he met (and studied with) the renowned Giulio Romano. In 1523, Clovio left Venice for Buda, to work at the court of Louis II, the king of Bohemia and Hungary-Croatia. After Louis’s death at the battle of Mohács in 1526, Clovio returned to Rome, where he entered the service of Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio, and where he resumed contact with Giulio Romano, and studied the work of Michelangelo.

Detail of a miniature painting of a leopard by Giulio Clovio, from folio 28v of the Farnese Hours, ca. 1537-46.

During the 1527 sack of Rome, Clovio had the misfortune to be captured and imprisoned by the ‘the Constable Bourbon’s banditti’ and apparently vowed to devote his life to religion should he be allowed to escape. Later that year he moved to Mantua, where he entered the Benedictine Abbey of St. Ruffino. Not long afterwards, he was released from his vows, owing to the intervention of his former patron Marino Grimani, who had become a Cardinal in 1527: even so, Clovio apparently continued to follow a somewhat monastic lifestyle. He remained in Grimani’s service until about 1538, after which he was lured back once again to Rome, where he is supposed to have spent nine years completing his masterpiece, the paintings that decorate the so-called Farnese Hours.

Detail of the decorative borders painted by Giulio Clovio, on folios 6v and 7 of the Farnese Hours, ca. 1537-46.


Detail of the decorative borders painted by Giulio Clovio, on folios 9v and 10 of the Farnese Hours, ca. 1537-46.

In this manuscript, commissioned by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, and completed in 1546, Clovio painted twenty-six lavishly-detailed full-page miniatures, and illuminated a few dozen more pages with elaborate border-decorations. The present images reproduce sections of the latter type of painting. The two images above, and the four that follow below, are details which juxtapose sections of both the left and right-hand borders from pairs of facing pages: click on these details to see them in the context of the relevant page-spreads as scanned from my copy of the 2001 facsimile edition of the Hours published by the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, in association with Akademische Druck-u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) of Graz, Austria. The manuscripts’s calligraphic text was written by Francesco Monterchi, secretary to Pier Luigi Farnese, Alessandro’s father.

Detail of the decorative borders painted by Giulio Clovio, on folios 32v and 33 of the Farnese Hours, ca. 1537-46.


Detail of the decorative borders painted by Giulio Clovio, on folios. 66v and 67 of the Farnese Hours, ca. 1537-46.

In his will, Alessandro stipulated that the Hours be kept at the Palazzo Farnese in perpetuity, and that the manuscript should never be sold or given away by his heirs or successors. The first of these conditions had been broken by the turn of the eighteenth century, by which time the Hours had descended to Francesco Farnese, the seventh duke of Parma and Piacenza, who kept the manuscript in the cabinet of the ducal gallery at Parma. Francesco’s son Don Antonio died without issue, and the book then passed, by way of his niece, into the possession of the Bourbon kings of the two Sicilies, who kept it at their court in Naples. Alessandro’s second stipulation was only broken at the very end of the nineteenth century, when it was sold in Vienna by the half-brother of the deposed Bourbon king, Francis II. The Frankfurt-based firm of J. & S. Goldschmidt later aquired the volume, and sold it to John Pierpoint Morgan in 1903, for the sum of £22,500. Today, it is housed in the Morgan Library & Museum in New York.

Detail of the decorative borders painted by Giulio Clovio, on folios 90v and 91 of the Farnese Hours, ca. 1537-46.


Detail of the decorative borders painted by Giulio Clovio, on folios 104v and 105 of the Farnese Hours, ca. 1537-46.

Clovio was greatly esteemed by his contemporaries. Vasari devoted a chapter in the second edition of his Vite to Clovio, praising him as a ‘piccolo e nuovo Michelangelo.’ Vasari described the Farnese Hours at length, claiming that it seemed to him a divine rather than a human production (che ella pare cosa divina e non umana). Other painters sought to meet Clovio: in 1553, Pieter Bruegel the Elder collaborated with him during his sojourn in Rome. And in 1570, Clovio petitioned his patron to let ‘a young man from the island of Candia [Crete]’ stay at the Farnese palace: this was Domenikos Theotokopoulos, El Greco. One of the earliest surviving works of El Greco’s is his portrait of Clovio, in which the older artist is portrayed holding the Farnese Hours…


Clovio’s postumous reputation has suffered, in part, owing to the fact that the best of his work has been kept enclosed between the covers of small books, away from public view. Beyond that, his style has been criticised as hyper-elaborate & over-ornamented, and it has even been suggested that his example ‘contributed largely to the decadence of the charming art of miniature-painting,’ I would have to admit that I find some of his miniatures, more especially the full-page scenes, a little too crowded for my taste, but elsewhere, conversely, some of his page-decorations are among the most beautiful I have seen.

Posted by misteraitch at June 2, 2006 01:35 PM

I find delectable the dreamy quality of the Tower of Babel and of the landscape facing it.

Posted by: Loxias on June 2, 2006 08:13 PM

Those brought to mind the hypermaternal columns of Hugues Sambin (20 years after the Farnese Hours). I can't find them at the present but I'm about 93% sure Sambin also had figures with the fronts of horse and other quadrupeds jutting out in a similar manner.

Sambin spent his life in France so I don't know if there was any inspiration/connection and maybe it's just my imagination/projection anyway. A Groveart membership would be handy - they seem to have a large section on Sambin.

Fascinating post. Some gorgeous stuff. Thanks.

Posted by: peacay on June 2, 2006 10:19 PM

Peacay—Apparently, Clovio derived these figures of the Ephesian Artemis from two decorated pilasters in Raphael’s Loggia (1518-9), which were in turn ‘partly inspired by the newly discovered ancient Roman paintings in the Golden House [Domus Aurea] of Nero…’

Posted by: misteraitch on June 3, 2006 07:21 AM

Ahh right. Thanks for removing my blinkers. Fertile inspiration indeed.

Posted by: peacay on June 3, 2006 08:28 AM

These are lovely, but it's surpising how your imagination can play tricks on you. When I first scrolle through the posting, without reading it properly, the 'paired' images taken from the side borders looked to me like a series paintings on pairs of doors in a baroque palace. It was quite a shock when I clcked on my first link to discover I'd been looking at images taken from an entirely different context!

Posted by: paulm on June 3, 2006 10:43 AM

excellent! congratulations

Posted by: zazie on June 3, 2006 02:15 PM


Posted by: marcio on June 3, 2006 06:19 PM

Regarding Clovio and the Tower of Babel: there is also a full-page miniature in the Farnese Hours on this subject: here’s a scan of the page in question, minus its elaborate border.

Posted by: misteraitch on June 4, 2006 10:54 AM

What lovely coloring... I like the misty landscapes and curious mixture of modes in the panels. Perhaps if critics spent more time trying to sympathize with an artist's intentions and accomplishments (not always the same thing!), we would know more about such figures. While I had heard of the Farnese Hours before now, I don't recognize any of these.

Posted by: marlyat2 on June 5, 2006 07:44 PM

i came upon your site b/c i was searching stuff in regards to sweden. what a great find.

these obscure subjects you touch on are most fascinating.

Posted by: -- j on June 6, 2006 08:11 AM
Clovio derived these figures of the Ephesian Artemis from two decorated pilasters in Raphael’s Loggia (1518-9), which were in turn ‘partly inspired by the newly discovered ancient Roman paintings in the Golden House [Domus Aurea] of Nero…’
As a little curiosity, I just wanted to add that the fantastic decoration in the Domus Aurea is at the origin of the adjective grotesque(the Domus Aurea was underground, like a grotto, hence the Italian name of that style, grottesca). Incidentally, the Domus Aurea was not covered by time; Romans destroyed and buried most of it following Nero’s fall in 68 AD, which tips you off on how popular he was.

The landscapes in the last example are gorgeous and dreamy. They make me think of Jan Brueghel.

Posted by: Michelangelo on June 6, 2006 07:12 PM

Here is a good close-up of the Artemis of Ephesus showing interesting detail, including a Zodiac running around her chest.

Posted by: Michelangelo on June 6, 2006 08:24 PM

Fantastic post. El Greco's portrait appeared in the 2004 Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition (its permanent home is the Museo e Galleria Nazionale di Capodimonte, in Naples) and was one of the most moving paintings in the show. Great to know the rest of the story--

Posted by: Ian on June 7, 2006 04:01 AM

On the subject of the Ephesian Artemis in Raphael’s Loggia: here’s an image—if only a small one—which shows a print of one of the decorated pilasters in question: apparently this, like most of the decorative elements in the Loggia, were the work of Raphael’s assistant Giovanni da Udine.

Posted by: misteraitch on June 7, 2006 11:09 AM

Mister: I am a great follower of this blog, altought you had never seen a comment from here: in first place, because I had nothing of worth to add (as now), and in addition to this, my english-writing is poorer than I wish, so I prefer to do not interfere at all with your "opus". I am very interested in ancient art and diverse symbology. I arrived here once via Google, looking for the Uroboros crafted by Michael Maier on his Atalanta Fugiens; and since then, I never left this place. This time I wanted to express my congratulations for making this fascinating blog. Keep up working like this.

Greetings from Buenos Aires.

El Mantícora

Posted by: El Mantícora on June 7, 2006 07:33 PM

I loved this site and this discussion. Does anyone have any thoughts about why Diana/Artemis was such a popular figure among Renaissance men. Was it just that she was back in fashion among elites who were touring the newly excavated Domus and Raphael's loggias?
greg critser/pasadena california

Posted by: greg critser on June 22, 2006 08:30 PM

Speaking of Farnese Hours, does anyone know where the frescos are for Raphael's hours? In Villa Farnesina? In Vatican Loggia? Do they still exist? 12 images each features a woman in draped gown, carrying items such as a personified sun, a torch, an oil lamp, a water-filled urn, a sundial, an owl, a bat, a swan and a squirrel. Each has a predella in the lower border depicting apparently symbolic scenes of animals, such as a tortoise pulling a swan in a golden ship-form carriage observed by a wild cat feasting on grapes.

Posted by: george on September 22, 2006 04:21 AM

I came across some very old photos of Raphael's The Hours on eBay recently. They were albumen prints. The photos supposedly were taken in the late 1800s. The items only had 15 hours left and that was at 02:00 CST on Oct.1, 2007.

Posted by: James Michael Grandone on October 2, 2007 09:10 AM
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