‘Un paragone con oro su’: material innovation, invention and Sebastiano del Piombo’s papal portraiture

This seminar paper examines Sebastiano del Piombo’s innovative use of stone supports and its immediate reception in the mid sixteenth century, especially at the papal court of the Farnese family. The central argument proposes that there was a significant theoretical and practical link between Sebastiano’s method of painting and his role as the keeper of the papal seal, or piombatore, a position that he held for the remainder of his life, after Clement VII died and through most of the papacy of Clement’s successor, Paul III. Perhaps initially conceived in relation to an impresa of the Medici pope, Sebastiano’s new technique seem geared to marry the authority and function of the piombatore with that of an esteemed portraitist. The brilliant linking of his duties, a sort of professional re-invention circa 1531, would have appealed both to Clement VII and his later Farnese protectors on a number of levels, metaphoric and practical.

Elena Calvillo is an Associate Professor of the History of Art at the University of Richmond, Virginia. Her research and writing have focused on artistic service and imitative strategies in sixteenth-century papal Rome. She is broadly interested in theories of representation and cultural translation and brokerage in Italy, Spain and Portugal in the sixteenth century. She has published several articles on the Croatian miniaturist Giulio Clovio at the court of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and the writings of Clovio’s Portuguese contemporary Francisco de Holanda. One recent study, ‘Authoritative Copies and Divine Originals: Lucretian Metaphor, Painting on Stone and the Problem of Originality in Michelangelo’s Rome’, Renaissance Quarterly 66 (2013), considers techniques of painting developed by Clovio, Holanda, and Sebastiano del Piombo in the context of artistic theory and practice during the Tridentine period. She is now co-editing a collection of papers on the technique of oil painting on stone supports developed by Sebastiano and its legacy in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe. Calvillo is also completing a book-length study of Clovio, “The Cardinal’s Artist: Giulio Clovio and artistic Service in Sixteenth-century Rome” and has begun a new book project that examines both the way in which artists experienced and reproduced in novel or precious media the canonical forms of Early Modern Rome and the ways in which collectors outside of Italy received and valued these artistic translations.

'Un paragone con oro su': material innovation, invention and Sebastiano del Piombo’s papal portraiture

9 Dec - 22 Mar 2023

9 Dec - 22 Mar 2023

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN, UK