Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Sebastiano del Piombo

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 12
Sebastiano del Piombo

by George Charles Williamson


More correctly known as SEBASTIANO LUCIANI.

Venetian portrait painter, b. at Venice, 1485; d. in Rome, 1547. He was known as del Piombo, from the office, conferred upon him by Clement VII, of keeper of the leaden seals. He was a pupil of Giovanni Bellini, and later on of Giorgione. His first idea was to become a religious or an ecclesiastic, and it is probable that he took minor orders and had every intention of proceeding to the priesthood, but he was strongly interested in music, devoted considerable time to studying that art, and in so doing became acquainted with Giorgione, a clever musician, who it appears induced him to delay his procedure towards the priesthood and give some attention to painting. It was on Giorgione's recommendation that he entered the studio of Bellini and, later, worked with Giorgione in his own studio. From the time of his acquaintance with him, we hear no more of his intention to embrace an ecclesiastical career. His earlier paintings were executed in Venice, but he was invited to Rome by Agostino Chigi, who was then building the Farnesina Palace, and some of the decoration of the rooms was put in the hands of Luciani. His work attracted the attention of Michelangelo, and the two men became warm friends. A little later Raphael saw his work and praised it highly, but they were never friends because of the jealousy existing between Michelangelo and Raphael and the friendship between Luciani and Michelangelo. The works which Luciani executed in Rome and at Viterbo betrayed the strong influence of Michelangelo. Their grandeur of composition could have come from no other artist of the time, but their magnificence of colour has nothing to do with the great sculptor, and is the result of Luciani's genius. A special event in Luciani's career is connected with the commission given to Raphael to paint the picture of the Transfiguration. Cardinal de' Medici, who commissioned the picture, desired at the same time to give an altar-piece to his titular cathedral at Narbonne, and commissioned a painting to be called the "Raising of Lazarus", and to be of the same size as Raphael's "Transfiguration". The two works were finished at about the same time, and were exhibited. It was perfectly evident that Luciani owed a great deal to the influence and the assistance of Michelangelo, but the colouring was so magnificent, and the effect so superb, that it created great excitement in Rome; notwithstanding that the "Transfiguration" by Raphael was regarded as the greater picture, Luciani's work was universally admired. The picture is now in the English National Gallery.

Luciani painted a great many portraits, one of Cardinal de' Medici, another of Aretino, more than one portrait of members of the Doria family, of the Farnese, and of the Gonzaga families, and a clever one of Baccio Bandinelli the painter. His painting was marked by vigour of colouring, sweetness, and grace; his portraits are exceedingly true and lifelike, the draperies well painted, and well drawn, but the feature of his work is the extraordinary quality of his colour and the atmosphere with all the delicate subtleties of colour value which it gives. In many of his pictures the colouring is as clear and fresh to-day as it was when it was first painted, and this more especially applies to the carnations, in other men's work the first to fade. After the death of Raphael, he was regarded as the chief painter in Rome, and it was then that he acquired his position as keeper of the lead seals, an office which was lucrative and important, and which enabled him to have more leisure than hitherto had been at his disposal. His death took place at the time that he was painting the chapel of the Chigi family, a work which was to be finished by Salviati. His pictures can be studied in Florence, Madrid, Naples, Parma, St. Petersburg, and Travesio, three of his most notable portraits being those at Naples and Parma, and the fine portrait of Cardinal Pole, now at St. Petersburg.

See VASARI's Lives of the Painters, various editions; and a work by CLAUDIO TOLOMEI, cited by LANZI, and known as Pitturi di Lendinara.

GEORGE CHARLES WILLIAMSON