Bernardino Luini was born in Dumenza near Luino between 1481 and 1482. Details of his life have been only emerged recently, even though there are still many open questions. He was the son of Donato di Bernardo de Schapis also known as Monlone. It is not known whether Bernardino was born from the first or second marriage. He lived in Dumenza until 1489 taking care of the family farm and then following his father in Milan around 1500 (a document from 1500 indicates his stay in Milan in the parish of S. Carpoforo).
In 1504 he married Margherita de Lomatio and they had four children, of whom two became painters. On a document Lomazzo recalls him Giovan Stefano Scotto’s student together with Gaudenzio Ferrari, whereas some other sources recall him as Gaudenzio’s master. Vasari mentions him in both editions of Lives (1550-1568) in Boccaccino’s biography describing him “very delicate” artist. Bernardino was one of the biggest followers of Leonardo’s painting, whose works he interpreted in his own works. His works were deeply admired until the nineteenth century, particularly by the French school at the end of the century and they returned to limelight when Roberto Longhi, one of the greatest art historians of the twentieth century, made a modern revaluation (ca. 1940) and described Luini as not a shameless imitator of Leonardo’s work but a “misunderstood” independent painter, who should be among the greatest artists in the history of art.
He probably traveled to Rome to study during the first decade of the sixteenth century and immediately after to Treviso in Veneto. After his return to Milan he worked mainly for private commissions and he came into contact with new Lombard masters such as Zenale and especially Bramantino. During this period, he made the frescoes of the Villa de La Pelucca near Sesto San Giovanni, commissioned by Gerolamo Rabia, and those in the Palazzo di Piazza S. Sepolcro in Milan (both have been detached and they are preserved today in Pinacoteca di Brera, Gemaldegalerie of Berlin and National Gallery of Washington). Between 1510 and 1512 he worked at Certosa di Pavia. During this period he made the famous Madonna del Roseto of Pinacoteca di Brera, a perfect mix of Zenale and Leonardo’s styles.
Bernardino’s later works are characterized by greater depth and more persuasive style, which were certainly influenced by his trip to Rome and his encounter with Raphael. Around 1521-1523 he began to work on the frescoes depicting St. Maurice at Monastero Maggiore in Milan. The frescoes were commissioned by Alessandro Bentivoglio and Ippolita Sforza, whose coat of arms are visible, and they were inspired by Central-Italian art and at some parts even by Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel. His following work was the cycle of frescoes for the Maggiore chapel of the sanctuary of Saronno, and the frescoes in Santa Maria degli Angeli of Lugano, dated 1529, which recalled the theatrical works by Gaudenzio Ferrari. During these years he received numerous commissions from private buyers, which are nowadays spread all over the world in public and private collections.
Bernardino Luini died on 1 July in 1532.