Luigi Primo

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Portrait of a Nobleman of Ancona (1650-1660)
Portrait of a Noblewoman of Ancona (1650-1660)

Louis Cousin, in Italy mainly known as Luigi Primo or Luigi Gentile (alternative names: Louis Primo, Lodewijk Cousin, Luigi Cousin, Lodovico Primo, Ludovicus Cousin, alias Primo, alias Gentile, Louis Cousin genaamd Primo, nicknames Gentiel or Gentile) (c. 1605–1667) was a Flemish painter of the Baroque period, who was active in Italy for a major part of his career and was known for his portraits and altarpieces.[1]


His birthplace was probably the village Breivelde near Ninove in present-day Belgium but it is also possible that he was born in Brussels.[2] A birth before 1606 is also considered possible. He was apprenticed to Gillis Claeissins the younger in Brussels in 1617.[3] He left the southern Netherlands while still young.[4] According to the 17th-century biographer Joachim von Sandrart Cousin continued his studies in Paris.[5] He was in Rome as early as 1626.[3] Here he would remain for thirty years and he joined the Bentvueghels, the association of mainly Dutch and Flemish painters in Rome. In the Bentvueghels he was given the nickname Gentile or Gentiel on account of his gentle manners. He was in Rome commonly known by his nickname Gentile. He used also in Italy the surname 'Primo' which is a translation into Italian of his French surname.

In Rome he studied the works of the great masters.[6] The first work in Rome that brought him some fame was a fresco on the side altar of the Santi Domenico e Sisto church in Rome. It depicts a miracle attributed to Dominic Guzman. Then he painted one of four oil paintings in the Saint Catherine chapel in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. This work increased his reputation and earned him new, well-paid commissions.[6]

In 1635 he joined the confraternity of the Church of St. Julian of the Flemings, signing with 'Ludovicus Cousin, alias Primo, alias Gentile'. He was further inducted into the Accademia di San Luca in 1650 and even became its director from 1651 to 1652.[4] The admission criteria of the Accadamia were very strict and considered both the artistic merit and personal qualities of the candidate. The selection process consisted of two rounds of voting in order to ensure that only the most eminent artists were selected and the prestige of the Accadamia would be preserved.[7]

The seventeenth century Italian biographer Giovanni Battista Passeri wrote that Cousin's passion for women induced him to neglect his work and squander all his money.[6] Cousin decided to leave Rome. He traveled to Loreto, where he made a painting for the high altar of the church of Santa Margherita, and then to Pesaro, where he worked in the cathedral. Finally he moved to Venice, where he painted several portraits.

He returned to Rome a few years before the death of Pope Innocent X in 1655. He was the first artist who painted a portrait of his successor Alexander VII following his election.[6]

After spending more than thirty years in Rome, he returned to Brussels. He became a member of the local Guild of Saint Luke in 1661.[4] He continued to paint portraits and historical themes, and also made design (called cartons) for tapestries that were then manufactured by local weavers. Through his involvement in the manufacture of tapestries, he was exempt from taxes.[6]

His work was popular with the Habsburg princes from whom he received numerous commissions. For the Spanish king he made a few cartons for tapestries and a large painting entitled Venus weeping over the dead Adonis (around 1656-1557).[8] He painted a number of paintings for Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria and made for the Austrian emperor some portraits of the emperor.[6]

According to Passeri he left little money after his death because he was fond of entertainment and thus liberally spent the money he earned.[6]

He had a number of students, including Jan Van Cleef.[4]


He painted mythological subjects and religious works[4] and was also very appreciated as a portrait painter.[9]

Some of the altarpieces he painted between 1633 and 1657 for churches in Rome are still in situ (e.g. Virgin Presenting the Child to St Anthony of Padua, 1655, San Marco, Rome).[4]

Sources say that between 1646-1652 he painted 27 small devotional paintings on copper for Pope Innocent X.[2] The small panels that were greatly admired by his contemporaries are, however, lost.[9]

The style of Cousin is situated halfway between the Italian and Flemish traditions and is a typical example of the lofty, somewhat tediously decorative style of the High Baroque.[4][10]


  1. ^ Gash J., p. 55
  2. ^ a b Biographical data on Hadrian
  3. ^ a b Biographical details at the Netherlands Institute for Art History (Dutch)
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Carl Van de Velde. "Primo, Luigi." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 31 Jan. 2014
  5. ^ Ludovicus Primo in: Joachim von Sandrart, Teutsche Academie der Bau-, Bild- und Mahlerey-Künste, Nürnberg 1675/1679/1680
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Luigi Gentile in: Giovanni Battista Passeri, Vite de pittori, scultori ed architetti che anno lavorato in Roma, Roma, 1772, blz. 249-253]
  7. ^ Memorie per servire alla storia della Romana Accademia di S. Luca
  8. ^ In the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Gemäldegalerie
  9. ^ a b Biographical details in Italian Encyclopedia Treccani online
  10. ^ Gash, John, pp. 55–56.


  • Bryan, Michael (1889). Walter Armstrong & Robert Edmund Graves, ed. Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, Biographical and Critical (Volume II L–Z). York St. #4, Covent Garden, London; Original from Fogg Library, Digitized 18 May 2007: George Bell and Sons. pp. 322–323. 
  • Gash, John; Montagu, Jennifer. Algardi, Gentile and Innocent X: A Rediscovered Painting and Its Frame. The Burlington Magazine (1980) pp. 55–60.