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He was born of a noble family at Bologna, where he studied under Battista Cairo , and afterwards under Francesco Albani. Though an intimate friend of the latter, and his most famous disciple, Cignani was yet strongly and deeply influenced by the genius of Correggio. His greatest work, moreover, the Assumption of the Virgin, round the cupola of the church of the Madonna della Fuoca at Forli , which occupied him some twenty years, and is in some respects one of the most remarkable works of art of the 17th century, is obviously inspired from the more renowned fresco of Correggio in the cupola of the cathedral of Parma .
Cignani had some of the defects of his masters; his elaborate finish, his audacious artificiality in the use of color and in composition, mark the disciple of Albani; but he imparted to his work a more intellectual character than either of his models, and is not without other remarkable merits of his own. As a man Cignani was eminently amiable, unassuming and generous. His success, however, made him many enemies; and the envy of some of these is said to have impelled them to deface certain of his works.
He accepted none of the honors offered him by the duke of Parma and other princes, but lived and died an artist. On his removal to Forli, where he died, the school he had founded at Bologna was fain in some sort to follow its master. His most famous pictures, in addition to the Assumption already cited, are the Entry of Paul III into Bologna; the Francois I Touching for Kings Evil; a Power of Love, painted under a fine ceiling by Agostino Carracci, on the walls of a room in the ducal palace at Parma; an Adam and Eve (at the Hague); and two of Joseph and Potiphars Wife (at Dresden and Copenhagen).
His son Felice Cignani (1660-1724) and nephew Paolo Cignani (1709-1764) were also painters.
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