FRANCO, Battista
(b. ca. 1510, Venezia, d. 1561, Venezia)


Battista Franco (also Baptista Veneziano or Il Semolei) was an Italian painter, engraver and draughtsman. Giorgio Vasari, who knew Franco well and who is the chief source for his life, claimed that Franco was born in 1498; however, later writers placed his birth in 1510, and the latter date seems more likely.

Although Venetian by birth, by the age of 20 Franco was in Rome. He painted an allegory of the Battle of Montemurlo now in the Pitti Palace (1537), and a fresco of the Arrest of John the Baptist for the Oratory of San Giovanni Decollato (1541). From 1545-51 he painted in Urbino. His painting, in the Mannerist style, was heavily indebted to Michelangelo; but his drawings and etchings have far more verve and originality.

He returned to Venice, where he helped fresco the ceiling of the Biblioteca Marciana (library). He painted a series of panels, including a Baptism of Christ (Barbaro chapel), for the walls and vault of the Grimani chapel in the church San Francesco della Vigna in Venice. He painted the Raising of Lazarus in the Ducal Palace.

While in Rome, he devoted himself to making drawings after the Antique and particularly after the works of Michelangelo; he was one of the first to copy the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. At this date he invariably worked in pen and made no original drawings. However, he subsequently made his own, more spontaneous studies, such as the Man in a Cloak (c. 1557-61; London, British Museum), in pen and wash over black chalk, and a total of about 100 drawings by his hand are now known. He also made many prints, often combining etching with engraving, as in St Jerome (c. 1554), printed from an enormous single plate (872 x 480 mm), showing an energetic, muscular saint at his devotions.

He may have been, along with Girolamo Genga, one of the mentors of Federico Barocci.

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