LEONI, Pompeo

(LEONI, Leone(c. 1509-1590) and Pompeo (c. 1533-1608)
Leone Leoni and his son Pompeo were Italian sculptors and medalists whose most famous works were done for the Habsburg monarchs, particularly Holy Roman Emperor Charles V* and his son, Philip II* of Spain. Leone was born in northern Italy; with his wife and son, Pompeo, he moved to Venice around 1533 and established himself as a goldsmith and a medalist. Through his kins­man, the writer Pietro Aretino,* Leone met another important man of letters, Pietro Bembo,* for whom he executed a portrait medal. Employment at the papal mint took Leone to Rome in 1537, where he became acquainted with various artists, including Michelangelo*; in 1542 Leone moved to Milan as a medalist for the royal mint. In the late 1540s Leone began fulfilling commissions from Charles V and his sister, Mary of Hungary,* for statues and portrait busts: the dazzling, monumental bronze Charles V and Fury Restrained (Madrid, Prado, 1549-55); the bronze busts Charles V Supported by an Eagle (Madrid, Prado, 1551-55) and Mary, Queen of Hungary (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Mu­seum, 1550-53); and bronze statues of several of the Habsburgs (Madrid, Prado, 1549-55). Pleased with Leone's work, Charles gave the sculptor a knighthood and a house in which to work.
Leone's personal life was as colorful as it was productive. Early in his career, accusations of counterfeiting cost him a job. In Rome he became embroiled in an argument with Benvenuto Cellini,* another famous goldsmith: Cellini was suspected of pilfering some of the papal jewels during the 1527 sack of Rome, and Leone bore witness against him. Cellini retaliated by charging that Leone had tried to poison his food. Leone also stabbed the pope's jeweler, for which he was first sentenced to lose his hand, but was instead ordered to serve as a galley slave, which he did for a year until the admiral Andrea Doria obtained his release. In 1558 Charles V died, and henceforth Leone's significant work was for Italian patrons, including his impressive monument statues for Gian Giacomo de' Medici, Ferrante Gonzaga, and Vespasiano Gonzaga. In the late 1560s he began restoration of the residence Charles V had given him, referred to as the Casa degli Omenoni, or House of Big Men, for the imposing statues that dec­orate the front of the building.
Leone returned to the Habsburgs for his last significant work, fifteen colossal bronze statues for the Escorial. As with many of his other works, Leone enlisted the help of his son Pompeo for this enormous project. Pompeo, a talented sculp­tor in his own right, was also in the employ of the Habsburgs for much of his life. Though his royal patrons were apparently unable to prevent his one-year imprisonment by the Inquisition for harboring heretical views, they undoubtedly appreciated his work, given the long list of commissions he received from them. After completing the statues for the Escorial begun by his father, Pompeo turned to the final project of his life, effigies of Charles V, Philip II, and several other Habsburg monarchs.
Both Leonis were also enthusiastic art collectors. Leon's collection comprised several plaster casts of both ancient and contemporary works and several draw­ings and paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian,* Tintoretto,* and Parmigianino.* Pompeo also owned several paintings and, most notably, the notebooks and papers of Leonardo da Vinci.
J. Pope-Hennessey, Italian High Renaissance and Baroque Sculpture, 1986.
Jo Eldridge Carney

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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