One of Raphael's most talented assistants, Giulio Romano left Rome in 1524 to work for Federigo Gonzaga, ruler of Mantua. Romano's paintings contributed to the spread of Roman mannerism, a style which set the artistic standard for the next two decades in Italy. This painting illustrates the sophisticated and obscure symbols that were familiar to the courts of sixteenth-century Italy; to decipher the meanings of the various segments was a challenging game for courtiers. The most easily understood symbols are the phoenix rising out of the flames (a symbol of rebirth) and the serpent devouring its own tail (representing eternity).
Artist Giulio Romano, Italian, 1499-1546
  • An Allegory of Immortality
Date ca. 1540
Medium oil on canvas
Dimensions Unframed: 27 1/2 × 27 1/2 inches (69.8 × 69.8 cm)
Framed: 31 3/8 × 31 3/8 × 1 1/2 inches (79.7 × 79.7 × 3.8 cm)
Credit Line Founders Society Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Buhl Ford II Fund
Accession Number 66.41
Department European Painting
On View European: Medieval and Renaissance W233, Level 2 (see map)
1693, until mid-18th century, Borghese collection (Palazzo Borghese, Rome, Italy);
until 1851, Vincenzo Camuccini [d. 1844] (Rome, Italy);
1851-1865, purchased by Algernon Percy, 4th Duke of Northumberland [d. 1865] (Alnwick Castle, England);
1865-1867, by descent to George Percy, 5th Duke of Northumberland and 2nd Earl of Beverly [d. 1867] (Alnwick Castle, England);
1867-1899, by descent to Hugh Algernon George Percy, 6th Duke of Northumberland [d. 1899] (Alnwick Castle, England);
1899-1930, by descent to Alan Ian Percy, 8th Duke of Northumberland [d. 1930] (Alnwick Castle, England);
1930-1940, by descent to Henry George Alan Percy, 9th Duke of Northumberland [d. 1940] (Alnwick Castle, England);
1940-ca. 1962, Hugh Algernon Percy, 10th Duke of Northumberland (Alnwick Castle, England);
1962, (Th. Agnew & Sons, London, England);
until 1966, (Paul Ganz, New York, New York, USA);
1966-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
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Hartt, Frederick. Giulio Romano. New Haven, 1958, pp. 219-222, pl. 469.

Agnew's Summer Exhibition of Old Masters. Exh. cat. London, 1962, no. 25.

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“Annual Report: Accessions.” Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 46, no. 1 (1967): 18-26, pp. 19, 26 (ill.)

Johnson, W. McAllister. “Giulio Romano's Allegory of Immortality Reconsidered.” Art Quarterly 32, no. 2 (1969): pp. 2-22 (ill.).

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“Review: Johnson, W. McAllister, ‘Giulio Romano's Allegory of Immortality Reconsidered.’ Art Quarterly.” Shakespearean Research and Opportunities 5-6 (1970): p. 239.

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Acta historiae artium, Volume 29 (1983): p. 101.

Giulio Romano. Exh. cat. Mantua, 1989, p. 438 (ill.).

Fürstenhöfe der Renaissance: Giulio Romano und die klassische Tradition. Exh. cat., Kunsthistorisches Museum, Neue Berg. Vienna, 1989, p. 176, pl. IV.96.

Carlson, Victor. Italian, French, English, and Spanish Drawings and Watercolors: Sixteenth Through Eighteenth Centuries. Detroit, 1992, p. 46.

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Battistini, M. Symbols and Allegories in Art, trans. S. Sartarelli. A Guide to Imagery. Los Angeles, 2005, pp. 12-13, (ill.).

Crenshaw, Paul. Discovering the Great Masters: The Art Lover’s Guide to Understanding Symbols in Paintings. New York, 2009, pp. 15, 178.

Kren, Thomas, Jill Burke and Stephen J. Campbell eds. The Renaissance Nude. Los Angeles, 2018, p. 153, note 15.