Giorgio Giulio Clovio
Michelangelo of the Miniature
(Croatia 1498-Rome 1578)
American Croatian Review, Year V, No. 1 and 2, June 1998, p. 51-52.
This year marks the 500th anniversary of Klovic’s birth. He is recognized as the most important illuminator of the 16th century. He was known as the Michelangelo of Miniature Art. Although much of his inspiration came from Raphael and Michelangelo, he developed his own visual language, brilliantly translating their monumental forms of work on the smallest scale.
Klovic, educated in his native Croatia, came to Italy at the age of 18 to study art. He began his training in Venice and spent several years there in the service of Cardinal Domenico Grimani and the Cardinal’s nephew Marino Grimani. During this period, Klovic visited Rome, where he met Giulio Romano and studied with him. This stay in Rome, as well as his experience with the art collections of the Grimani, which included many works by northern artists, notably Durer, strongly influenced his artistic development. In 1523, Klovic left Venice to work at the court of Louis II, the king of Bohemia and Hungary-Croatia, and his wife Mary of Austria, the sister of Emperor Charles V. Works he executed there may include illustrations in a missal (1525; Zagreb Cathedral, Treasury) made for Simone Erdody, Bishop of Zagreb, depicting leaves with scenes of the Virgin and Christ, landscape medallions and richly decorated borders of putty with garlands. He is known to have painted a picture of the Death of Lucretia for the Queen Mary and a Judgement of Paris, both works untraced. His stay at the court ended with the Turkish invasion and the death of King Louis in 1526.
Klovic returned to Rome, where he was taken into the service of Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggi (1474-1539). He resumed contact with Giulio Romano, and according to Vasari, studied the works of Michelangelo. During the following year he was taken prisoner by the troops of Charles V, a traumatic experience that led to his decision to join a monastery. On his release from prison he moved to Mantua, where he entered the Benedictine Abbey of St. Ruffino, taking the name Giulio probably in honor of his teacher. With the help of Grimani, who had become a Cardinal in 1527, Clovio obtained papal dispensation to leave the monastery, although he remained a priest. References to Michelangelo include nude figures taken from those on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Klovic’s figures are lively and graceful with an appealing sensuality. His work the Book of Hours, known as the Farnese Hours and generally acknowledged as his masterpiece, was completed for Cardinal Campeggi in 1546. It contains 26 miniatures illustrating biblical scenes, including the Death of Uriah the Hittite, the Crossing of the Red Sea, the Circumcision, and Flight into Egypt.
Klovic accompanied Cardinal Alessandro Farnese to Florence in 1551 and remained there until 1553. For the Duke of Florence, Cosimo I de Medici, he executed small paintings on parchment, a Crucifixion with St. Mary Magdalene, in the Florence Uffizi. He returned to Rome in 1553, when he probably executed the Towneley Lectionary (London) also Commissioned by Cardinal Farnese. The miniatures for this manuscript, which include a Last Judgement and a dramatic Resurrection, again exhibit a mixture of Roman influences but have a greater spiritual intensity, reflecting the Counter Reformation. It has been suggested that they also show interest in Flemish art.
In 1561 Klovic returned to Rome again to the household of Cardinal Farnese in the Palazzo della Cancelleria. During his periods of residence in Rome, Klovic had access to many important writers and artists and he became an influential figure in artistic life there. His friends included Michelangelo, Giorgio Vasari, Annibal Caro, and Vittoria Colonna. He was an early supporter of El Greco and in 1570 persuaded Cardinal Farnese to give the young artist lodgings in the Palazzo. El Greco’s striking portrait of Clovio (1571; Naples, Capodimonte) shows him holding the Farnese Hours and indicating the miniature of the Creation of the Sun and Moon. Klovic’s likeness, with that of Michelangelo and Raphael, is also included in El Greco’s painting of Christ Driving the Money-changers form the Temple (Minneapolis, MN). Late works by him include three miniatures, the Holy Family with a Knight, the Holy Family with St. Elizabeth, and David and Goliath (Paris, Mus. Marmottan). Among his finest surviving drawings are the Entombment (Chicago Art Inst.) and the Conversion of St. Paul, Crucifixion and Lamentation (London B.M.) Variants of the Entombment (Paris, Louvre) include a cortege of Michelangelesque male nudes, and a number of drawings copied from Michelangelo also survive (Windsor Castle; Royal Lib.).
Klovic died in Rome on January 3, 1578 and was buried in St. Pietro in Vincoli, Rome. An inventory made after his death indicates that his collection included works by Bruegel and Titian. His drawings were left to Cardinal Farnese.
Klovic’s Letter on Behalf of El Greco
The memorable letter of 1570 from Julije Klovic to Cardinal Farnese, describes in a few words the situation of El Greco at that time. Cardinal Farnese was in Viterbo and that is where the letter is being addressed:
To Cardinal Farnese, in Viterbo
November 16 
A young man from the island of Candia has arrived in Rome, a disciple of Tiziano, who, in my judgment, is among those excellent in painting. Among other things, he has done a portrait of himself that has caused the astonishment of the Roman painters. I would like to put him under Your Excellency’s protection. He does not need anything else to live but a room in the Farnese palace for a short while until he finds better accommodations. Therefore, I beg you to write to Mr. Ludovico, your housekeeper, to provide him with a room in the upper quarters of said palace. Your Excellency will do a good deed and I would be much obliged. I kiss with reverence your hands, and remain Your Excellency’s humble servant.
Don Julio Clovio (Julije Klovic)
Julije Klovic in the Eyes of His Contemporaries
Vasari, the famous contemporary writer, calls him: “il maraviglioso,” “il piccolo Michelangnolo,” and “il principe dei miniatori.”
Lomazzo speaks of him as “il mirabile,” “l’unico.”
Lanzi, even: “il restauratore delle arti.”
Zani: “il Raffaello dei Miniatori.”
Rosnini: “insuperato miraculoso.”
Nagler referring to his productions says, ” Alles hat ein rafaelisches gepräge.”
In short, the universal testimony is that he was the most famous miniaturist of his time, and his time was that of the most famous artists of the modern world.
From John W. Bradley. The Life and Works of Giorgio Giulio Clovio. Amsterdam, G. W. Hissink, 1971. Reprint of t
he 1891 Edition.