ORSI, Lelio
(b. 1511, Novellara, d. 1587, Novellara)

Biography

Italian painter and draughtsman. A prominent Emilian artist of the mid-16th century, he was influenced by Correggio as well as by the late Mannerist style of Giulio Romano. His large-scale works seem to have been mainly secular decorations, notably illusionistic façades, of which only fragments are extant. Their energy and expressiveness are apparent, however, in the surviving paintings of smaller dimensions. Orsi's sole documented architectural work is the Collegiata di S Stefano, Novellara (1567; study, Windsor Castle, Royal Library).

Lelio Orsi studied with his painter father, but very early on he incorporated into his polished, illusionistic style the two influences that remained primary throughout his life: Giulio Romano's exaggerated movement and excitability and Correggio's poignant passion and vibrant way of seeing. By 1538 Orsi had moved to a larger nearby town, Reggio Emilia, where he painted many architectural façades with illusionistic designs. Accused of involvement in a murder, he returned to his native Novellara in 1546, where he continued to create distinguished decorative works, especially as a painter of façades for the local nobility. Though he also completed a large project for the count of Novellara, providing everything from architectural drawings to decorative partitions for a villa, only fragments of any of these works survive.

The year 1554, spent in Rome, was decisive: there he absorbed Michelangelo's Mannerism, which stayed with him for life. He began to concentrate on making easel paintings of mostly mythological and religious subjects; they indicated the energy and expressiveness of his monumental works, and their jeweled technique made them beautiful in themselves. By 1576 Orsi was probably back in Reggio Emilia.