1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Luini, Bernardino

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LUINI, BERNARDINO (?1465–?1540), the most celebrated master of the Lombard school of painting founded upon the style of Leonardo da Vinci, was born at Luino, a village on Lago Maggiore. He wrote his name as “Bernardin Lovino,” but the spelling “Luini” is now generally adopted. Few facts are known regarding his life, and until a comparatively recent date many even of his works had, in the lapse of years and laxity of attribution, got assigned to Leonardo da Vinci. It appears that Luini studied painting at Vercelli under Giovenone, or perhaps under Stephano Scotto. He reached Milan either after the departure of Da Vinci in 1500, or shortly before that event; it is thus uncertain whether or not the two artists had any personal acquaintance, but Luini was at any rate in the painting-school established in Milan by the great Florentine. In the later works of Luini a certain influence from the style of Raphael is superadded to that, far more prominent and fundamental, from the style of Leonardo; but there is nothing to show that he ever visited Rome. His two sons are the only pupils who have with confidence been assigned to him; and even this can scarcely be true of the younger, who was born in 1530, when Bernardino was well advanced in years. Guadenzio Ferrari has also been termed his disciple. One of the sons, Evangelista, has left little which can now be identified; the other, Aurelio, was accomplished in perspective and landscape work. There was likewise a brother of Bernardino, named Ambrogio, a competent painter. Bernardino, who hardly ever left Lombardy, had some merit as a poet, and is said to have composed a treatise on painting. The precise date of his death is unknown; he may perhaps have survived till about 1540. A serene, contented and happy mind, naturally expressing itself in forms of grace and beauty, seems stamped upon all the works of Luini. The same character is traceable in his portrait, painted in an upper group in his fresco of “Christ crowned with Thorns” in the Ambrosian library in Milan—a venerable bearded personage. The only anecdote which has been preserved of him tells a similar tale. It is said that for the single figures of saints in the church at Saronno he received a sum equal to 22 francs per day, along with wine, bread and lodging; and he was so well satisfied with this remuneration that, in completing the commission, he painted a Nativity for nothing.

A dignified suavity is the most marked characteristic of Luini’s works. They are constantly beautiful, with a beauty which depends at least as much upon the loving self-withdrawn expression as upon the mere refinement and attractiveness of form. This quality of expression appears in all Luini’s productions, whether secular or sacred, and imbues the latter with a peculiarly religious grace—not ecclesiastical unction, but the devoutness of the heart. His heads, while extremely like those painted by Leonardo, have less subtlety and involution and less variety of expression, but fully as much amenity. He began indeed with a somewhat dry style, as in the “Pietà” in the church of the Passione; but this soon developed into the quality which distinguishes all his most renowned works; although his execution, especially as regards modelling, was never absolutely equal to that of Leonardo. Luini’s paintings do not exhibit an impetuous style of execution, and certainly not a negligent one; yet it appears that he was in fact a very rapid worker, as his picture of the “Crowning with Thorns,” painted for the College del S. Sepolcro, and containing a large number of figures, is recorded to have occupied him only thirty-eight days, to which an assistant added eleven. His method was simple and expeditious, the shadows being painted with the pure colour laid on thick, while the lights are of the same colour thinly used, and mixed with a little white. The frescoes exhibit more freedom of hand than the oil pictures; and they are on the whole less like the work of Da Vinci, having at an early date a certain resemblance to the style of Mantegna, as later on to that of Raphael. Luini’s colouring is mostly rich, and his light and shade forcible.

Among his principal works the following are to be mentioned. At Saronno are frescoes painted towards 1525, representing the life of the Madonna—her “Marriage,” the “Presentation of the Infant Saviour in the Temple,” the “Adoration of the Magi” and other incidents. His own portrait appears in the subject of the youthful “Jesus with the Doctors in the Temple.” This series—in which some comparatively archaic details occur, such as gilded nimbuses—was partly repeated from one which Luini had executed towards 1520 in S. Croce. In the Brera Gallery, Milan, are frescoes from the suppressed church of La Pace and the Convent della Pelucca—the former treating subjects from the life of the Virgin, the latter, of a classic kind, more decorative in manner. The subject of girls playing at the game of “hot-cockles,” and that of three angels depositing St Catherine in her sepulchre, are particularly memorable, each of them a work of perfect charm and grace in its way. In the Casa Silva, Milan, are frescoes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The Monastero Maggiore of Milan (or church of S. Maurizio) is a noble treasure-house of Luini’s art—including a large Crucifixion, with about one hundred and forty figures; “Christ bound to the Column,” between figures of Saints Catherine and Stephen, and the founder of the chapel kneeling before Catherine; the martyrdom of this saint; the “Entombment of Christ,” and a large number of other subjects. In the Ambrosian library is the fresco (already mentioned), covering one entire wall of the Sala della S. Corona, of “Christ crowned with Thorns,” with two executioners, and on each side six members of a confraternity; in the same building the “Infant Baptist playing with a Lamb”; in the Brera, the “Virgin Enthroned, with Saints” (dated 1521); in the Louvre, the “Daughter of Herodias receiving the Head of the Baptist”; in the Esterhazy Gallery, Vienna, the “Virgin between Saints Catherine and Barbara”; in the National Gallery, London, “Christ disputing with the Doctors” (or rather, perhaps, the Pharisees). Many or most of these gallery pictures used to pass for the handiwork of Da Vinci. The same is the case with the highly celebrated “Vanity and Modesty” in the Sciarra Palace, Rome, which also may nevertheless in all probability be assigned to Luini. Another singularly beautiful picture by him is in the Royal Palace in Milan—a large composition of “Women Bathing.” That Luini was also pre-eminent as a decorative artist is shown by his works in the Certosa of Pavia.

A good account of Luini by Dr G. C. Williamson was published in 1900.  (W. M. R.)