Organized by Dominique Cordellier, Head Curator, Department of Prints and Drawings, Musée du Louvre and on view on the 2nd floor of the Sully wing of the Louvre Museum, this exhibition is devoted to the work of Luca Penni, A Disciple of Raphael in Fontainebleau.
Although Luca Penni gained his initial experience in Rome as part of Raphael’s close circle, he never endeavored to imitate the master completely. While his compositions often found their origins in the work of Raphael, the lines are pure and simple, a legacy of the years spent on projects in Fontainebleau alongside Rosso and Primaticcio.
Born in Florence, Luca Penni received training in Rome with his brother, Gianfrancesco Penni, and Perino del Vaga, who both worked with Raphael. He followed Perino to Genoa before joining the first group of painters invited by King François I to work on the Château de Fontainebleau. There, he worked under the supervision of Rosso and as Primaticcio’s equal for a time. He was not as involved as the two others on the design of the château’s décor, but he made a significant contribution, with the help of numerous engravers, to promoting its style through printmaking.
After the death of François I in 1547, Luca Penni moved from Fontainebleau to Paris. Working with Parisian burinists, he continued to disseminate the style of Fontainebleau in a variety of disciplines – medals, portraits, etc. – and strove to make it accessible to a new clientele of both aristocrats and bourgeois. Often translating the works of Raphael, Penni produced a number of philosophical compositions and worked on an interpretation of classical texts. Homer, Virgil and especially Ovid and The Metamorphoses gave the artist an opportunity to portray his sense of epic narration and produce great compositions. Penni also exhibited a strong sense of entangled bodies, multiplying images that are fascinating, erotic or historical, seductive or bloody, to which he never failed to give a lively and graceful choreographic turn.
Penni’s oeuvre thus stems from the legacy of Raphael and the esthetic of Fontainebleau. An evolution of style that paradoxically made him the inventor of French classicism based on Italian mannerism.
Luca Penni died before spring 1557. The burinists continued to engrave his excellent drawings. His drawings were sought. The prints were sought. Louis XIV acquired some, marking the beginning of a fascination with 16th-century style that was accentuated during the 20th century. They formed the basis of what the Louvre is exhibiting today with the help of Parisian collections.
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