Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647), was an Italian painter and an early exponent of the Baroque style of Italian painting. He is most famous for his work painting church ceilings, above all his greatest work in the dome of San Andrea della Valle in Rome, as well as his bitter rivalry with his fellow painter Domenichino, first in Rome and later in Naples.
Born in Parma in 1582, as a boy Lanfranco was a page at Piacenza in the service of Count Scotti. A child prodigy, he showed a talent for drawing and painting from an early age, and before he reached his 16th birthday he had already painted a picture of the Virgin Mary which was so well regarded that it was placed in the church of San Agostino at Piacenza.
The Count placed Lanfranco under the tutelage of Agostino Caracci, with whom he remained for some years, but then when Agostino died in 1602, Lanfranco moved to Rome and joined the workshop of Agostino's much more famous brother, Annibale Caracci, participating in numerous projects decorating the churches around Rome
It was at this time that Lanfranco began his fierce rivalry with Domenichino. The two were both young hotshots, nearly the same age, and both were heralded as the next big thing in Italian painting. Time and time again the two found themselves competing for the same commission, and each time one or the other would win, the hate would only grow stronger. At one point the rivalry got so heated that Lanfranco publicly accused Domenichino of plagiarizing Agostino Caracci in his painting of the Confession of St. Jerome, now in the Vatican.
Lanfranco's crowning achievement came when, through clever scheming and backdoor wheeling and dealing, he beat out Domenichino for the commission to paint San Andrea della Valle, one of the most coveted and high-profile commissions of the age. According to legend Domenichino was so bitter at losing the commission that he attempted to sabotage Lanfranco's scaffolding, so that his rival might fall and break his neck.
But in any case, perhaps exerting himself to the utmost in order to prove he was the best painter in Rome and truly deserved the comission, Lanfranco's Assumption of the Virgin (completed 1627), was his greatest masterpiece, and his combination of the Caracci figure style with Correggio's illusionistic foreshortening marked the high point of the Italian Baroque.
In the 1630s Lanfranco and Domenichino both followed the rich commissions to Naples where they continued their rivalry. Domenichino died suddenly in 1641, allowing Lanfranco to step in and finish the work he had almost completed on the Naples Treasury. Lanfranco of course obliterated most of his rivals work and redid the whole thing, leaving only the work in the corners, but by this time Lanfranco was aging and in decline, and many critics feel that Domenichino's corners outshine his work in the main dome. Lanfranco remained in Naples a few more years, before moving back to Rome in 1646, and dying one year later.
Ultimately the rivalry between Domenichino and Lanfranco was a near dead heat. Domenichino was more consistently excellent and more technically solid, but he was artistically conservative, where as Lanfranco was a visionary who mixed and matched styles, tried out new techniques and approaches and was always striving to move art forward. A randomly selected Domenichino work is likely to be superior to a randomly selected work by Lanfranco, but Lanfranco's masterpiece at San Andrea della Valle, in terms of breathtaking scope and artistic vision, outshines anything Domenichino ever did.