True Images of Illustrious ❧ 1577 Giovio

The Elogia had its origins in the biographies, rhetorical in form and intended to be brief, vivid and memorable, which Giovio composed to hang below the portraits in
his museum on Lake Como. “Giovio’s idea of founding a portrait museum on the
lake was his most original contribution to European civilization. While
Wunderkammern and princely collections were not new, the idea of filling a villa
with portraits of famous people on canvas or on bronze medallions, calling it a
museum, and opening it … for public enjoyment was a new departure … . The
inspiration had come to him, he said, of adorning his room, ‘Mercury and Pallas’,
with the ‘true images of illustrious men of letters, so that through emulation of their
example good mortals might be inflamed to seek glory’. Thereafter his
correspondence shows him badgering all manner of persons for portraits … . [There]
were various precedents for Giovio’s inspiration to form a portrait collection, but
none was quite what Giovio had in mind. Although intended as figurae of glory and
incentives to emulation, most collections or cycles featured idealized or imaginary
representations, whereas from the very start Giovio demanded an exact likeness,
preferably done from life but otherwise from sound evidence such as coins,
medallions, portrait busts, or earlier authentic portraits … . When he had the
inspiration of enlarging the identifying inscriptions to elogia, or capsule biographies,
his innovative scheme was complete.” (T.C. Price Zimmermann, Paolo Giovio: The Historian and the Crisis of Sixteenth-Century Italy, [Princeton, 1995], pp. 159-160).

❧ Paolo Giovio (1483-1552). Elogia virorum literis illustrium. [Basel] P. Perna, 1577. Call number: (Ex) Oversize 1038.392.11q