IL FRANCIA (FRANCESCO RAIBOLINI)
(Zola Predosa or Bologna, c. 1447-1449 – Bologna, 5 January 1517)
Tempera and oil on panel transferred onto canvas
The Annunciation, which the physician Antonio de Grado commissioned Francia to paint for the chapel of the Annunciata in the church of San Francesco in Mantua, was originally surmounted by a cymatium depicting the Eternal Father, now lost.
The figures in the work appear monumental thanks to the lowered horizon; the temple, from which the Virgin appears holding a holy book, is a quotation from the architectural theories of early 16th-century Tuscan-Umbrian classicism.
The solemn and calibrated rhythm, the delicate and emotional tone of the religious narration, the gentle and graceful facial features of the Archangel Gabriel and Mary, and even the courtly style of the Temple’s architecture are a veritable manifesto attesting to the influence of Pietro Perugino’s style.
Francesco Raibolini, known by the nickname of Francia, a diminutive of his Christian name Francesco, a native of Bologna or the countryside, trained first and foremost as a goldsmith. Throughout his life he proudly signed his name as “Francia aurifex”, even in paintings. However, he probably concentrated on painting from an early age, preferring portraits with their wealth of detail.
In addition to his success at the Gonzaga court in Mantua, he worked for the Bentivoglio family in Bologna, producing jewellery and silverware for affluent patrons.
Numerous study trips gave him a close-hand introduction to the works of the most current masters of his time: the Flemish in Florence and, in Urbino, Piero della Francesca, Perugino, Giovanni Bellini, Antonello da Messina and Mantegna.
His workshop was the most popular one in Bologna; it was run by the family, with children and grandchildren working there as well as pupils, but the organisation was such that many different hands merged to produce a single style.
The attention to detail, from jewellery to hairstyles and natural elements such as saplings, recalls the goldsmith technique of his early training.