Born in Bologna, he trained under Giulio Romano in Mantua and became a pupil of Innocenzo da Imola, executing decorations at the Palazzo Te before securing a position in the court of Francis I of France in 1532.
Together with Rosso Fiorentino he was one of the leading artists to work at the Chateau Fontainebleau (where he is grouped with the so-called "First School of Fontainebleau") spending much of his life there. Following Rosso's death in 1540, Primaticcio took control of the artistic direction at Fontainebleau, furnishing the painters and stuccators of his team, such as Nicolò dell'Abate, with designs. He made cartoons for tapestry-weavers and, like all 16th-century court artists, was called upon to design elaborate ephemeral decorations for masques and fêtes, which survive only in preparatory drawings and, sometimes, engravings. Francis I trusted his eye and sent him back to Italy on buying trips in 1540 and again in 1545.
Primaticcio's crowded Mannerist compositions and his long-legged canon of beauty influenced French art for the rest of the century.
Primaticcio turned to architecture towards the end of his life, his greatest work being the Valois Chapel at the Abbey of Saint-Denis, although this was not completed until after his death and was destroyed in 1719.
Alexander tames Bucephalus
The rape of Helena, 1530-1539
Ceiling at Chaalis Abbey
Annunciation at Chaalis
- The project, which brought a first virtual confrontation with Roman sculpture to French patrons and artists, is surveyed in detail by S. Pressouyre, "Les fontes de Primatice à Fontainebleau", Bulletin monumental 127 (1969), pp. 223-38. See also Thomas Clouet, "Fontainebleau de 1541 à 1547. Pour une relecture des Comptes des Bâtiments du roi", Bulletin monumental 170 (2012), pp. 195-234, in which article a precise chronology of the casting of these famous bronzes is established (english summary). The precious moulds, at the instigation of Leone Leoni were sent to the Habsburg court in the Spanish Netherland in 1550 and, after serving to make a set of stucco casts for Charles V's daughter Mary of Hungary, Queen-governess of the Netherlands at Binche (where they were destroyed by Henry II's troops in 1554) they were probably forwarded to Leoni in Milan (Bruce Boucher, "Leone Leoni and Primaticcio's Moulds of Antique Sculpture", The Burlington Magazine 123 No. 934 (January 1981), pp. 23-26).
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