Leone Leoni (1509 — 22 July 1590) was an Italian sculptor of international outlook who travelled in Italy, Germany, Austria, France, the Spanish Netherlands and Spain. After early travels in Italy he settled in Milan. Leoni is regarded as the finest of the Cinquecento medallists. He made his reputation in commissions he received from the Habsburg monarchs Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and Philip II of Spain. His usual medium was bronze, although he also worked in marble, alabaster, carved gemstones and probably left some finished work in wax (in which many of his sculptures were modelled), as well as designing coins. He mainly produced portraits, and was repeatedly used by the Spanish, and also the Austrian, Habsburgs.
His family origins were at Arezzo, though he was probably born at Menaggio near Lake Como, and his early training, to judge from the finish of his medals, was with a medallist or goldsmith, as Vasari says. His earliest documentation finds him at Venice after 1533, with his wife and infant son, living under the protection of his Aretine compatriot, Pietro Aretino. He served the papal mint at Ferrara 1538-40, but was forced to withdraw under accusations of counterfeiting levelled by Pellegrino di Leuti, the jeweller of the Farnese Pope Paul III; Leoni attacked Pellegrino and was condemned to a year in the galleys, from which the entreaties of Andrea Doria released him: Leoni produced three plaquettes and five medals of Andrea Doria as tokens of his gratitude.
Once freed from the galleys, he moved to Milan to take up an Imperial appointment as master of the mint there, 20 February 1542, at 150 ducats a year and the gift of a house in the Moroni district of Milan. Leoni's house in Milan, rebuilt 1565-67, was immediately called the Casa degli Omenoni for its heroically-scaled herm figures and bearded Atlantes, a rarity in Milan at the time; it is indicative of his social success. The figures were carved by Antonio Abondio, doubtless following Leoni's models. Here he entertained Giorgio Vasari, who noted Leoni's large collection of plaster casts after the Antique, dominated by a stucco of the equestrian Marcus Aurelius from the Campidoglio in his courtyard. His early protector in Milan, with whom he was on familiar terms, was the Imperial Governor, Ferrante Gonzaga.
He had made an early reputation for portrait medallions, before his major commissions from Charles V, whose image for posterity lies in his portraits by Titian and Leoni. Leoni was the guest of Charles in Brussels in 1549, and the first of the portraits from life dates from this time; however, Leoni had made a portrait medallion of Charles in 1536. In Brussels the Emperor installed Leoni in an apartment below his own and delighted in his company, spending hours watching him at work, Vasari recalled. He knighted Leoni on 2 November 1549.
For the cathedral of Milan, Leone executed the five bronze figures for the monument of the condottiero Gian Giacomo Medici, brother of Pope Pius IV, in a marble architectural setting that Vasari attributed to a drawing by Michelangelo.
On a commission from Cardinal Granvelle (1516-86), Bishop of Arras, Archbishop of Malines, Viceroy of Naples, and the leading Habsburg minister, Leone cast life-sized half-figures in richly framed ovals, of Charles, Philip and the Cardinal, described by Vasari.
A marble portrait of Giovan Battista Castaldo, at the Church of San Bartolomeo, Nocera Inferiore — a commission mentioned by Vasari who thought it was bronze anddid not know to which monastery it had been sent — was included in the exhibition "Tiziano e il ritratto di corte", Museo di Capodimonte, Naples, 2006.
Leoni's commissions for royal portraiture in Spain were an extension of his Habsburg patronage. On his return from Spain, where he executed the series of royal portraits, he brought a purse of 2000 scudi, according to Vasari. He pioneered what became a common Baroque format for a portrait bust; mounted on a pedestal, and truncated at mid-chest, or the bottom of the stomach (often defined by an armoured breast-plate), sweeping up at the sides to just below the shoulders. He also made life-size full-length portrait bronzes, like that of Charles V, which were not intended as funerary effigies, as nearly all previous examples had been.
Leoni was assisted in the monumental bronzes destined for the Escorial by his son Pompeo Leoni (c.1533–1608), who continued the large bronze-casting foundry after his father's death, in a style that is not securely separated from that of his father. Among the assistants to Pompeo was Adriaen de Vries.
Leoni's name remained among the few recognizable landmarks in 16th century sculpture and consequently attracted many attributions during the nineteenth century.
George Sand's Leone Leoni is not based on the sculptor's career.