Giovanni Francesco Romanelli
Viterbo, c. 1610-1662
Romanelli enjoyed a successful career, perhaps not merited by the middling quality of his work. A pupil of Pietro da Cortona’s in Rome, he made his debut in the chapel of Palazzo Barberini where he painted without assistance the frescoes of The Adoration of the Shepherds and The Resurrection. His subsequent work remained heavily indebted to Cortona (Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Viterbo, Museo Civico), although it was increasingly permeated by a classicist approach (The Calling of Saint Matthew, 1637, Pisa, San Matteo) much in vogue, following Andrea Sacchi’s example, in the early 1640s when the Lateran Baptistry was painted, and where the Pistoian artist with whom Romanelli had good relations, Giacinto Gimignani, was also working. Romanelli, meanwhile also frescoed the hall of Countess Mathilda in the Vatican. In 1638, when still very young, he was elected Principal of the Accademia di San Luca, an achievement undoubtedly assisted by the protection of a patron as powerful as Cardinal Francesco Barberini and by the esteem in which he was held by Bernini. Among the many works commissioned from him, the one which stands out is perhaps his altarpiece of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple for Saint Peter’s, (1638-1642, now in Santa Maria degli Angeli) a highpoint in its fusion of Cortona with Emilian classicism (as in Domenichino) melded into a sort of stereotypical formula of Romanellian ideal beauty which constitutes the specific style but also the personal limits of this painter. Thanks to Barberini, Romanelli was constantly employed in supplying cartoons for the tapestry workshop founded by the cardinal. In 1644, the artist produced an altarpiece of The Assumption of the Virgin for the high altar of the Swiss abbey of Sankt Gallen. The high point of Romanelli’s career was in 1646 when he was called to Paris by Cardinal Barberini, who had moved there following the death of his uncle Pope Urban VIII. The decoration of the vaults of the upper gallery of the palace of Cardinal Mazarin (now the Bibliothèque Nationale) with Stories from Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ was the first, superb accomplishment of his first French sojourn. Romanelli’s blend of the art of Cortona and classicism would prove extremely influential on French painting. But Rome, when he returned to it, proved no less prodigal with regard to prestigious commissions. These included the frescoes painted in the Costaguti, Altemps, and, especially, Lante palaces, not to mention the apse of the church of San Marco. Between 1654 and 1657 Romanelli was back in Paris, called there by Louis XIV who entrusted him with the decoration of various rooms in the Musée du Louvre (the summer apartments of Anne of Austria, and the ceilings of four rooms which he painted with Episodes from Roman History, Allegories, and Stories from the Old Testament). Back in Italy, Romanelli spent most of his remaining years in his native city (Saint Lawrence, Viterbo, Duomo).