(b Douai [now in France], 1529; d Florence, 13 Aug. 1608).
Flemish-born Italian sculptor. He was the greatest sculptor of the age of Mannerism and for about two centuries after his death his reputation was almost equal to that of Michelangelo. Virtually all his career was spent in Florence, but he was admired throughout Europe and patrons and collectors of his work included several popes, the Holy Roman emperors Maximilian II and Rudolf II (see Habsburg), and kings of France (Henry IV) and Spain (Philip III). Giambologna trained in Flanders under Jacques Dubroeucq (c.1505–84). In 1550 he went to Italy to further his studies and spent two years in Rome, where he met the elderly Michelangelo. He intended returning to Flanders, but on the way he visited Florence and settled there for life. The work that made his name, however, was for Bologna—the Fountain of Neptune (1563–6), with its impressive nude figure of Neptune, which he had designed for a similar fountain in Florence (Ammanati defeated him in the competition). Even before working on the fountain in Bologna, however, Giambologna had begun in Florence the first of a series of celebrated marble groups demonstrating his formidable mastery of complex twisting poses: Samson Slaying a Philistine (c.1561–2, V&A, London); Florence Triumphant over Pisa (completed 1575, Bargello, Florence); The Rape of a Sabine (1581–2, Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence); Hercules and the Centaur (1594–1600, Loggia dei Lanzi). These were made for members of the Medici family, his greatest patrons (he was court sculptor to three successive Medici Grand Dukes of Tuscany: Cosimo I, Francesco I, and Ferdinando I). His monument to Cosimo I (1587–95) was the first equestrian statue made in Florence and an immensely influential design, becoming the pattern for similar statues all over Europe, including two from his own workshop: that to Henry IV in Paris (destroyed), which was completed after Giambologna's death by his colleague Pietro Francavilla (1548–1615); and that to Philip III in Madrid, which was installed after the master's death by his most important pupil, Pietro Tacca.
It was for the Medici also that Giambologna made his largest work—the colossal (about 10 m (33 ft) high) figure of the mountain god Appennino (1577–81) in the gardens of the family's villa at Pratolino. Constructed of brick and stone, the god crouches above a pool and seems to have emerged from the earth. Giambologna, however, was as happy working on a small scale as in a monumental vein. His bronze statuettes were enormously popular (they continued to be reproduced almost continuously until the 20th century) and being portable helped to give his style European currency. The most famous of them is Mercury (originally made c.1565), of which several versions and many copies exist. It is such a potent image of speed and grace that it has been adapted in several ways in the modern world, for example as the symbol of Interflora. Many of Giambologna's preliminary models also survive, giving insight into his creative processes. The best collection is in the Victoria and Albert Museum.