FRANCIA (c.1450-1517), a Bolognese painter, whose real name was Francesco Raibolini, his father being Marco di Giacomo Raibolini, a carpenter, descended from an old and creditable family, was born at Bologna about 1450. He was apprenticed to a goldsmith currently named Francia, and from him probably he got the nickname whereby he is generally known; he moreover studied design under Marco Zoppo. The youth was thus originally a goldsmith, and also an engraver of dies and niellos, and in these arts he became extremely eminent. He was particularly famed for his dies for medals; he rose to be mint-master at Bologna, and retained that office till the end of his life. A famous medal of Pope Julius II. as liberator of Bologna is ascribed to his hand, but not with certainty. As a type-founder he made for Aldus Manutius the first italic type.
At a mature age - having first, it appears, become acquainted with Mantegna - he turned his attention to painting. His earliest known picture is dated 1494 (not 1490, as ordinarily stated). It shows so much mastery that one is compelled to believe that Raibolini must before then have practised painting for some few years. This work is now in the Bologna gallery, - the "Virgin enthroned, with Augustine and five other saints." It is an oil picture, and was originally painted for the church of S. Maria della Misericordia, at the desire of the Bentivoglio family, the rulers of Bologna. The same patrons employed him upon frescoes in their own palace; one of "Judith and Holophernes" is especially noted, its style recalling that of Mantegna. Francia probably studied likewise the works of Perugino; and he became a friend and ardent admirer of Raphael, to whom he addressed an enthusiastic sonnet. Raphael cordially responded to the Bolognese master's admiration, and said, in a letter dated in 1508, that few painters or none had produced Madonnas more beautiful, more devout, or better portrayed than those of Francia. If we may trust Vasari - but it is difficult to suppose that he was entirely correct - the exceeding value which Francia set on Raphael's art brought him to his grave. Raphael had consigned to Francia his famous picture of "St Cecilia," destined for the church of S. Giovanni in Monte, Bologna; and Francia, on inspecting it, took so much to heart his own inferiority, at the advanced age of about sixty-six, to the youthful Umbrian, that he sickened and shortly expired on the 6th of January 1517. A contemporary record, after attesting his pre-eminence as a goldsmith, jeweller and painter, states that he was "most handsome in person and highly eloquent."
Distanced though he may have been by Raphael, Francia is rightly regarded as the greatest painter of the earlier Bolognese school, and hardly to be surpassed as representing the art termed "antico-moderno," or of the "quattrocento." It has been well observed that his style is a medium between that of Perugino and that of Giovanni Bellini; he has somewhat more of spontaneous naturalism than the former, and of abstract dignity in feature and form than the latter. The magnificent portrait in the Louvre of a young man in black, of brooding thoughtfulness and saddened profundity of mood, would alone suffice to place Francia among the very great masters, if it could with confidence be attributed to his hand, but in all probability its real author was Franciabigio; it had erewhile passed under the name of Raphael, of Giorgione, or of Sebastian del Piombo. The National Gallery, London, contains two remarkably fine specimens of Francia, once combined together as principal picture and lunette, - the "Virgin" and "Child and St Anna" enthroned, surrounded by saints, and (in the lunette) the "Pietà," or lamentation of angels over the dead Saviour. They come from the Buonvisi chapel in the church of S. Frediano, Lucca, and were among the master's latest paintings. Other leading works are - in Munich, the "Virgin" sinking on her knees in adoration of the Divine Infant, who is lying in a garden within a rose trellis; in the Borghese gallery, Rome, a Peter Martyr; in Bologna, the frescoes in the church of St Cecilia, illustrating the life of the saint, all of them from the design of Raibolini, but not all executed by himself. His landscape backgrounds are of uncommon excellence. Francia had more than 200 scholars. Marcantonio Raimondi, the famous engraver, is the most renowned of them; next to him Amico Aspertini, and Francia's own son Giacomo, and his cousin Julio. Lorenzo Costa was much associated with Francia in pictorial work.
Among the authorities as to the life and work of Francia may be mentioned J.A. Calvi, Memorie della vita di Francesco Raibolini (1812), and especially G.C. Williamson, Francia (1900).
(W. M. R.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)