Procaccini’s works display a unique hybrid quality, somehow reconciling languages as diverse as the Mannerism of Parmigianino (1503–1540) and Rubens’ (1577–1640) Baroque. He collaborated with Francesco Mazzucchelli (1573–ca.1626) called Morazzone and Giovanni Battista Crespi (ca. 1575–1632) known as Cerano. Together they represented major figures in the propagation of intensely religiose images in Milan at a time of the spiritual revival led by Cardinal Federico Borromeo. His work influenced other contemporaries such as Tanzio da Varallo (1575/80–1632/33) and Daniele Crespi (1597/98–1630).
After moving to Milan in 1590, Procaccini was instructed as a painter by his father, Ercole, a former pupil of Annibale Carracci (1560–1609). Though he began as a sculptor, Procaccini moved to Parma around 1600 to study Correggio (1489–1534) and Parmigianino. Their influence can be felt on his early paintings produced upon his return to Milan, such as The Coronation of the Virgin with Saints Joseph and Francis (ca. 1605). Throughout his career, Procaccini combines the ecstatic sensuality, in both content and technique, of the great Emilians and Rubens, who he was to see later in Genoa, with the dark devotion of Hapsburg Catholicism. His masterpiece in this vein is the Ecstasy of St Mary Magdalene of 1616–20 now in the National Gallery, Washington D.C.
His success as a painter was cemented in 1610 when he contributed works to a large series of twenty-four paintings illustrating the life of the recently canonised Cardinal Borromeo for the Duomo in Milan. Procaccini’s encounter with Rubens’ florid style took place during his visit to Genova in 1618 at the invitation of his greatest patron, Giovanni Carlo Doria. Most likely executed in Genova, Procaccini’s Ecce Homo (after 1615) incorporates Rubens’ intense palette and announces a move away from Mannerism. Shortly afterwards he produced the so-called ‘three-hand painting’ of the Martyrdom of Saints Rufina and Secunda (ca. 1620/24) with Cerano and Morazzone. On account of the shared authorship, the canvas shows a fascinating blending of styles that showcases the brilliance, the bravura technique and yet the darkness which underlies seicento Lombard painting. His last known work is his 1624 Self-portrait where he is depicted holding a gold medal given to him by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo II de’ Medici, illustrating how Procaccini’s success had extended far beyond the borders of Milan.
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Books on Giulio Cesare Procaccini
Hugh Brigstocke, Giulio Cesare Procaccini, Turin, 2020.
Nancy Ward Neilson, Giulio Cesare Procaccini: disegnatore, Busto Arsizio, 2003.
Hugh Brigstocke, Procaccini in America, New York, 2002.
Marco Rosci, Giulio Cesare Procaccini, Soncino 1993.
Giacomo Berra, L’Attività Scultorea di Giulio Cesare Procaccini, Milan, 1991.
Hugh Brigstocke, ‘Giulio Cesare Procaccini Reconsidered’ in Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen, vol. 18, 1976, pp. 84–133.
Carlo Cesare Malvasia, Felsina Pittrice: Live of the Bolognese Painters, 1678, trans. ed. Elizabeth Cropper, Washington D.C., 2012.