The success and career of Jean de Boulogne, are based on a precise historical moment in mid-16th-century Florence. The establishment of the Medici family as rulers was an important feature of life in Florence, by the birth of an artistic historiography with the glorification of Michelangelo and by the relationship between artistic expression and the new criteria linked to the Council of Trent.
Flemish sculptor, Jean de Boulogne, who went on to become known as Giambologna at the Medici court, was able to bear all of these aspects in mind and to use them well to his advantage.
Giambologna was born in 1529, in Douai, which is now in France, although in the 16th century it was under the rule of Emperor Charles V, as was the rest of the area known as Flanders. As a child, he was apprenticed to the workshop of Flemish sculptor and architect Jacques Du Broeucq, maître-artiste de l.empereur who is also mentioned by Vasari.
It was in the Flanders of Mary of Hapsburg, Queen of Hungary and Regent of the Netherlands, Jean became enamoured of contemporary Italian art and its evident classical roots.
In fact, the young Jean was greatly influenced by a long period spent in Rome, where he moved in 1550.
In Rome he was able to study the ancient statues and works by Michelangelo and from the school of Raphael directly. After a couple of years in the Urbe, during which he spent time perfecting his craft by making clay or wax models, taken above all from the themes of classical sculpture; one such piece is said to have been on the end of the negative opinion of an extremely severe and now elderly Michelangelo.
In Rome, Giambologna met with fellow countryman Willelm Tedrode and through this talented northern sculptor, already an assistant to Cellini - with the famous Guglielmo della Porta.
Some time around 1552, Jean de Boulogne moved from Rome to Florence, where he entered into partnership with Bernardo Vecchietti, his pygmalion and first means of introduction to the court of Duke Cosimo and that of his son, Francesco de. Medici.
His ability to create natural forms in his sculptures made Jean de Boulogne famous for his representations of animals.
In 1563 Giambologna was called to Bologna. Here, at the orders of Pope Pius IV and his delegate Pier Donato Cesi, he created his first masterpiece, the monumental Fountain of Neptune in Piazza Maggiore; a pyramid-shaped group of sculptures and architecture dominated by Neptune, the god of the sea.
However, it was his Rape of the Sabine Women, put on public display in the setting of the Loggia della Signoria that consecrated his success as a sculptor. His ability to sculpt bodies in the old classical style but rich with a beauty apparently close to natural forms, increased his fame, for example, in the invention of splendid figures of naked women in seductive poses but academically innovative and true to life.
Giambologna also became extremely famous for his small bronze statues of Venus. The spread of the bronze statue in Florence is largely due to the successful collaboration between Giambologna and his assistant, Antonio Susini, as is the fashion for refined items that were small but which had a strong visual impact: Venus, Hercules, and wild beasts.
Jean de Boulogne also developed a controlled style in the difficult and delicate field of holy art, which fell into line with the new dictats of Catholic Reform.
His religious masterpiece was the Grimaldi Chapel in the now destroyed church of San Francesco di Castelletto in Genoa.
Latter works by Giambologna include the Equestrian Monument to Cosimo I from 1594, a work that changed the whole appearance of Piazza Signoria, giving an unusual dignified air to the city of Florence.