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Pompeo Batoni

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Pompeo Batoni


Pompeo Batoni was one of the greatest Italian painters of the eighteenth century. Authentic in style and original in creativity, he was a true "star" of his time, having painted portraits of three popes, twenty-two European monarchs, and an infinite number of aristocrats who competed to have his services in Rome between about 1740 and 1787, the year of his death.

Estasi di Santa Caterina - - 1743 - Museo di Villa Guinigi

Of him, Lucca recalls in particular the famous Ecstasy of St. Catherine (1743, image below), once preserved in the Church of St. Catherine, and now admirable in the Museum of Palazzo Mansi (but often on loan to other important cultural institutions of Lucca, including Villa Guinigi).


He became famous in Rome, where he went very young, then Batoni refused irritated the protection of the Republic of Lucca in money and commissions, and did not return to his small country because the patrons of Lucca (including the godfather Alessandro Guinigi) had suspended his pension condemning his hasty (according to them) first marriage. However, he always continued to place, next to the signature on the paintings, in Latin a "Lucensis".


Batoni had an impressive production of over 600 paintings, the result of fifty-five years of an extraordinary career, always on the rise, which saw him engaged, at some point with the decisive collaboration of his children, in an impressive amount of paintings on order. His talent was put to the test, always with gratifying results, in various genres: from gigantic altarpieces to smaller paintings of domestic devotion, from historical scenes to mythological and allegorical scenes, up to the portrait he has profoundly renewed and to which he has perhaps more attached if not his fame at the time, certainly the enormous fortune of collecting for which his works, but in particular portraits, are present in private collections and museums around the world.


Pompeo Girolamo Batoni was born in Lucca on January 25, 1708, from Paolino Batoni, a well-known goldsmith from Lucca and Chiara Sesti. According to the learned Lucchese Tommaso Trenta until he was 7 years old, he had a physical problem that prevented him from moving correctly, a problem that then disappeared over time. He learned art and attention to detail from his father, becoming skilled at chiseling precious metals. It was certainly from his father's workshop that what was called a "hard-working Dutch finiteness" came about. He began to design sacred goldsmithery, including a chalice for Pope Benedict XIII, which was his opportunity to highlight himself. In the Senate of Lucca he wanted in fact to show his gratitude to Pope Benedict XIII for having elevated the diocese of Lucca to an archdiocese, he decreed to present them as a gift a golden chalice, whose achievements were precisely entrusted to the young Batoni. The excellence of this work, especially in the beautiful figures around the chalice, made known the extraordinary talent of the future painter to the city nobility, who decided to finance it.


Meanwhile he followed the study of painting under the direction of the Lucchese Domenico Brugeri and Giovanni Domenico Lombardi. With the financial help provided by Alessandro Guinigi in primis (of the powerful Lucchese family of the same name), and by seven other noblemen from Lucca, in 1727 he moved to Rome when he was only 19 years old in 1727, with the intention of learning that art which was of greats of the past such as Raffaello, Guercino and Annibale Carracci. In the eternal city his masters were Sebastiano Conca, Agostino Masucci and Francesco Imperiali.


Madonna in trono con Santi e Beati della famiglia GabrielliIn 1730, having married the daughter of the custodian of the Farnesina at the age of 22, he lost the financial aid of his patrons from Lucca and was forced to support himself by selling copies of ancient sculptures and painting fans. Batoni that in that year was at the school of Francesco Imperiali. His initial works were concentrated mostly in portraits, then in religious subjects, as was the case for a first important work: the Madonna Enthroned with Saints and Blesseds of the Gabrielli family, commissioned to him by the Count of Baccaresca Forte Gabrielli. in 1733 for the Church of San Gregorio al Celio, with obvious influence of the Imperial and Carlo Maratta, a painter active in Rome twenty years earlier.


The genesis of the creation of the Madonna on the throne with Saints and Blesseds of the Gabrielli family was also an opportunity that Batoni was able to seize. In April 1732 Rome was hit by violent rains. In search of shelter, Fort Gabrielli di Gubbio, Count of Baccaresca took refuge under the portico of the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Campidoglio, where the young Pompeo was drawing bas-reliefs of the palace staircase. Impressed by his skill and purity of design, Gabrielli asked Batoni to see other works of his and was so impressed by his talent that he offered to paint the altarpiece for the chapel of his family that would end up in San Gregorio Magno al Celio. This important work caused the general admiration of the Roman high spheres. It was the beginning of a dazzling career.


Madonna in trono con Santi e Beati della famiglia GabrielliAlready in the painting with Christ and Saints for the Church of Saints Celsus and Julian (1735), and in the Judgement of Solomon (Prato, private collection), the Allegories of the Arts of 1740 (Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main) approached a more rigorous classicism, linked to the two Bolognese putters Domenichino and Guido Reni. With these works Batoni conquered the Roman environment, with the arrival of numerous commissions of paintings of religious, allegorical, mythological subjects. In 1737 he was commissioned by the scholar Marco Foscarini - later Venetian ambassador to Rome, and later doge - to paint a triumphant Venice (Raleigh, North Carolina Museum). The work, as the American art historian Antony Clark pointed out, derives from the Triumph of Bacchus by Pietro da Cortona and the Triumph of Flora by Nicolas Poussin. The influence of Guido Reni can be seen in another of his early works (about 1737-1740), the Truth discovered by Time (Rome, Galleria Colonna).


Caduta di Simon Mago - 1755From 1738 to 1750 Batoni worked for the family of the Counts Merenda of Forlì, but also took commissions of great importance, such as the paintings for Benedict XIV at the Quirinale and the altarpieces for the Church of Santa Maria della Pace in Brescia, and for the Church of San Vittore in Corpo in Milan, for the friars Filippini of Chiari, for Messina, as well as the two now at the Museo Nazionale Villa Guinigi: his most famous altar canvas will be that for St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, the Fall of Simon Magus was painted in 1755. However, the work did not convince the Reverend Fabbrica di San Pietro and two years after it was placed in the Vatican Basilica, it was removed and posted in the Church of Maria degli Angeli. This was a decisive moment in Batoni's career.


From that moment on, the balance he had maintained between religious/mythological painting and portraiture quickly shifted in favour of the latter, thanks also to the links he created with English and Irish visitors travelling to Rome. In 1747 Batoni married his second wife Lucia Fattori with whom he had seven more children. Three of his sons helped him in his workshop. After the "rejection" of St. Peter's, from 1750 to 1770 Batoni produced almost exclusively portraits, first for noble and wealthy English and Irish, and then with his reputation as a portrait painter now established in continental Europe and England, followed the important commissions from popes, nobles and royal houses in Europe.


His mythological subjects, painted especially between 1740 and 1760, were very appreciated, among which the two stories of Hercules and the two stories of Achilles of the Uffizi stand out. Also worth mentioning are the splendid Magdalene (Dresden), painted for Count Merenda di Forlì in 1740, and the Marriage of Psyche (1756), now in Berlin (Staatliche Museen).


Lady Fetherstonhaugh in sembianze di Diana - 1751A large part of his abundant production consists of portraits now scattered in public and private galleries in Italy and abroad. The type of mythological French portrait, followed by the Batoni for the Marquise Merenda, is also found in later paintings such as Lady Fetherstonhaugh in the guise of Diana of 1751 (in the photo), or in the Girl in the guise of Innocence of 1752 (both Uppark Sussex, Collection Meade-Fetherstonhaugh), and in the portraits, from 1780, of Aleksandra Potocka as Melpomene (Krakow, National Museum) and Izabella Potocka as Polymnia (Warsaw, National Museum). In 1744 the painter from Lucca painted the first portrait for an English nobleman passing through Rome, that of Joseph Leeson (now in Dublin, at the local National Gallery).

Over time, many portraits of English gentlemen followed. Batoni, developed a new type of portrait: the character, in front of ruins or ancient statues, or against the beautiful backdrops of the Roman countryside, rivals in dignity with that of ancient statues. It was necessary to update it to the fashion of the excavations that were taking shape (the first excavations of Herculaneum date back to 1738, those of Pompeii to 1748), and in the same period it was an important memory, for the client, of the Grand Tour as far as Rome.

In Rome he met the daughter of the custodian of the Farnesina, Caterina, married some time later and with whom he had five children (the woman died in 1742, at a young age; she will remarry in 1747 with Lucia Fattori, with whom she had another seven children). They were not lucky years in terms of finances, it seems that to support his family he also had to sell some of his copies to passers-by and travelers of all kinds.


Classicist tendencies did not emerge with paintings depicting mythological subjects, probably among the most valuable works (mention is made of "Ercole fanciullo", now in the Uffizi Gallery, or "Achille alla corte di Licomede". Painting style acquired in the school Masucci and Ferdinandi, as well as through the collaboration of major landscape designers (including Locatelli and Van Bloemen).


Ritratto di Sir Humphrey Morice - 1758Batoni put in his portraits his wide human understanding. They were rarely compassionate and adulterous, such as Pius VI of 1755 (now in three versions, one in the Warsaw National Museum and one in Turin in the Galleria Sabauda and one in the Vatican Museums) or the Portrait of Cardinal Malvezzi of 1744 (Rome, Malvezzi-Campeggi Collection).


Ritratto di Lord John Brudenell-Montagu - 1758The spirit of the century dominates most of these works: if the characters are striking for their naturalistic and psychological notation, which is valid for the needs of similarity, for their external vivacity, they are also characterized by a dynamic ideal balance: like the Portrait of Sir Humphrey Morice of 1762 (now in the Norton Conyers House in Yorkshire, by chance this English country house was the one that inspired the places of Jane Eyre to Charlotte Brontë'), all balanced with connections and counterpoints; the Portrait of Lord John Brudenell-Montagu of 1758 (Boughton House, Kettering Northamptonshire), a thoughtful and refined work; the Portrait of Joseph of Austria with his brother Leopold of 1769 (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum), or the Portrait of William Gordon of 1766 (Fyvie Castle, Aberdeenshire), impetuous in its appearance and pose, in Scottish costume on a background where the Colosseum appears.


Batoni came to exacerbate the rendering of the character in his most natural propensity. An example of this is the Portrait of the Archbishop Giovanni Domenico Mansi in the Pinacoteca Nazionale of Lucca, painted between 1765 and 1769. There is no longer any Raphaelesque or classical memory in these figures freely set in space, cut with almost photographic unscrupulousness, caught in the ephemeral and even relevant life of a gesture, in turning around, in presenting oneself.


Ritratto di William Gordon - 1766Yet Batoni, a friend of Anton Raphael Mengs, a great representative of neoclassicism in Europe and a splendid portrait painter, despite feeling the charm of antiquity, cannot be defined as a neoclassical painter. The Bolognese painter Onofrio Boni already noticed this when he wrote in his Elogio a Batoni in 1787, by then a consecrated artist, that he had been made a painter "by nature", against the Mengs "made a painter by philosophy", that is, by his studio - and he meant that the painter from Lucca was a distinguished painter, a spontaneous assimilator, who always went towards the pure sources of art. Batoni followed in fact a fantastic and complex vein, which often led him away from programs and theories. Linked to the classicist tradition, his painting takes on various and autonomous particular nuances: sometimes imbued with the verve of the century, other times more attentive to drawing and distribution of composition, other times still deformed as the painting of a mannerist. And in the interest of the human figure, which was masterfully realized in the portrait, in excluding landscapes and still lifes, Batoni draws attention to one of his aspects, the close link with the time in which he lived and with the new ideas that snaked in Europe, an aspect that is the basis of his success in the English world.


In Lucca, Pompeo Batoni is also known from the bust and plaque of his birthplace, in Via dell'Anguillara, look at him well in the face, because in front of you you find an artist who later became the best Italian painter of his time, so was his fame. His clients also came from places like England and Ireland, and today we find his paintings from the Louvre in Paris to the Metropolitan in New York. The high number of foreign visitors during the Grand Tour in Italy (and Rome in particular), contributed to the large commissions he received from all over Europe. There were also several illustrious portraits of sovereigns, from Frederick II of Prussia, his great admirer, to the King of Poland, the Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, Joseph II and Leopold II, as well as three popes (Benedict XIV, Clement XIII and Pius VI) and several others, including important patrons from all over Europe.


Ritratto di William Gordon - 1766From 1759 onwards, Batoni lived in a large house in Via Bocca di Leone in Rome. Struck by apoplexy, he died on February 4, 1787, at the age of 79. He was buried in the Church of San Lorenzo in Lucina, his Roman parish (where Nicolas Poussin is also buried). His works can be admired in many places in Italy and abroad, at Palazzo Pitti, at the Hermitage of St. Petersburg the 'Continence of Scipio', in Lisbon the 'Seven Shoals of Altar', at the Royal Palace of Caserta the 'Allegory of Religion and Allegory for the death of two children of Ferdinand IV', at the Quirinal the 'Handing over of the keys and the Evangelists'. In Lucca, his hometown, are guardians of the works of Batoni various buildings, including Palazzo Mansi, Palazzo Cenami, Palazzo Mazzarosa, Palazzo Minutoli-Tegrimi, Villa Guinigi and several others with numerous temporary exhibitions.


Let's conclude with what the American painter Benjamin West, who lived in Italy between 1760 and 1763, once confided to a friend: "When I came to Rome, the Italian artists of the time spoke of nothing else, they looked at nothing but the work of Pompeo Batoni".


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