(c1482 – after 1515)
Giulio Campagnola was something of a Renaissance child prodigy. At the age of fifteen he was described as talented as a poet, singer and lutenist, able to read Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and skilled in painting, illuminating manuscripts, engraving and the cutting of gemstones. This was in a letter from a relative recommending the youth to the court at Mantua, but other sources confirm the variety of his talents.
Only 15 prints can be ascribed to him with certainty, and a few more have been ascribed to him with varying degrees of plausibility. He has been credited with a similar number of drawings, but opinions are more varied here. Surviving drawings certainly related to his prints have been ascribed to Titian, Giorgione and others. With paintings the position is still less clear; paintings by him were mentioned as being in Venetian collections around 1530, but no attribution to him of a surviving painting has been generally accepted.
He was born in Padua, a city dominated by its famous university. His father was highly educated, and is mentioned by Vasari as an artist, although this may have been as an amateur. The choice of a classical name (Julius in English) for his son was still fairly unusual at this date. Presumably he played a large part in educating his son.
It is not clear whether Giulio did ever go to Mantua, where Mantegna was employed as court artist, but there is strong influence from Mantegna in some of Giulio’s prints, at least one of which (St John the Baptist) was based on a drawing by Mantegna or his workshop. In other ways Giulio’s art is very far from the spirit of Mantegna.
In 1499 Campagnola is recorded as attached to the d’Este court at Ferrara. There is then no documentary evidence until 1507, by when he was in Venice and borrowed from a fellow Paduan a watercolour painting (returned in 1510) and three copper engraving plates. His only dated engraving is the Astrologer of 1509. The next documentary mention is the last, from early 1515, when the last clause of the will of the famous Venetian publisher Aldus Manutius requests that Campagnola be employed to cut the matrices for some new printing type.
In about 1512 Campagnola adopted a young orphan, who took the name Domenico Campagnola, and who in about 1517 completed an engraving plate his father had half-finished. It is presumed that Giulio had died by then. Domenico Campagnola had a successful career as a painter and engraver, and was closely associated with Titian for a number of years.
The earlier engravings that are certainly his borrow heavily from Dürer in their technique (see our Leda and the Swan) and in some the whole landscape background is copied very closely from him. He produced one straight copy of a Dürer print, as many Venetian artists were doing at the time. The development of his mature style, and his stipple technique, is described in our notes on his prints of The Young Shepherd and the Baby with Three Cats.
Campagnola’s engravings were evidently printed in small quantities for wealthy Venetian collectors; they have survived in even smaller numbers, and it is likely that some prints have not survived at all. Campagnola was himself frequently copied by other artists – it took until the C19 to sort out which versions of some prints were the original.