GRASSI, Giovannino de'
(b. ca. 1350, Milano, d. 1398, Milano)


Italian miniaturist, painter and architect, one of the main representatives of the Lombard school of illuminations flourishing under the patronage of the Visconti. This school excelled in the representation of nature.

In contrast to his documented career, Giovannino's 20th-century reputation is as one of the most innovative and inventive of manuscript illuminators, despite the fact that his only documented illumination is 'tabulla una a grammatichi' (a grammar table/tablet; 1395), made for the seven-year-old son of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, 1st Duke of Milan. His reputation rests instead on the inscription 'Johininus de grassis designavit' on a folio of wash drawings of animals in a sketchbook (Ms. VII. 14, folio 4v, Biblioteca Civica, Bergamo).

Some of the late 14th-century drawings in this sketchbook are closely related to those of the Psalter-Hours begun for Gian Galeazzo (MS. Banco Rari 397 and MS. Landau Finaly 22, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence) and completed some decades later for his son Filippo Maria. A change in the type of subsidiary decoration and variations in style show that the illumination for Giangaleazzo was undertaken in two campaigns. The two styles, however, are closely related, and a precise division between them is difficult to make. The earliest work on the manuscript, the first volume and the opening folios of the second volume, is generally attributed to Giovannino and was probably painted in the late 1380s, before he joined the payroll of the Milan Cathedral works. The light, bright colours, richly gilded with liquid and burnished gold, give the pages a scintillating appearance. Each border is of an individual design; in addition to conventional foliage, some include birds or animals and many have a resourceful incorporation of the emblems, arms, mottoes and even portraits of the owner.

His son, Salomone de' Grassi (active around 1400) was also an illuminator.