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Tommaso Minardi

Italian, 1787 - 1871

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Tommaso Minardi was born in 1787 in Faenza, and his subsequent artistic identity was naturally affected by Felice Giani, who ran a large workshop there. Minardi's formal training was with a local painter and printmaker, Giuseppe Zauli, who had developed a passion for antiquities and who convinced Minardi's parents that Rome was the essential training ground for their son. Once in that city Minardi spent a brief period in the studio of Vincenzo Camuccini, absorbing the elements of Neoclassicism. Already as a young man he began to veer away from painting and to concentrate instead on drawing, and it is for his skill as a draughtsman that he is best known today.

In 1819 he moved to Umbria, where he joined the Accademia di Belle Arti of Perugia as professor of drawing and was soon promoted to director. His skill in this field was recognized by his appointment in 1822 as professor of drawing at the Accademia di San Luca in Rome, a post he retained for more than thirty years.

In 1812 he had been commissioned by the Milanese printmaker and author Giuseppe Longhi to do a detailed drawing after Michelangelo's Last Judgment a project that occupied him off and on for thirty years, during which time he produced some forty drawings after older masters, for example, a Samson and Delilah after Michelangelo (Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna. Disegni di Tommaso Minardi {1787-1871}. Exhibition catalogue by Stefano Susinno, Maria Antonietta Scarpati, Donatella Cialoni, and Roberta J. M. Olson. 2 vols. Rome: De Luca, 1982, fig. 11) and a Head of a Woman after Raphael (ibid., fig. 10). His unpublished autobiography (Biblioteca Comunale di Forlì, Saffi, ms. 288CR 194) contains the observation that, after embarking on copies after Michelangelo, he lived in a state of complete isolation and squalor, resulting in an inability to paint. He soon began to distance himself from his teacher Camuccini and to depart from Giani's decorative style. An extraordinary self-portrait of 1813, now in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence (Faldi, Italo. "Gli inizi del neoclassicismo in pittura nella prima metà del Settecento." In Convegno Internazionale: nuove idee e nuova arte nel '700 italiano. Atti dei convegni Lincei, no. 26, pp. 495-523. Rome: Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, 1977, fig. 237), provides visual documentation of his self-image: a handsome young man with a haunted expression-the very picture of the Romantic "starving artist"-is shown huddling against the cold on a mattress set on the floor of a cluttered garret.

Minardi's career reflects his efforts to square his Neoclassical training with his Romantic inclinations, which resulted in his becoming a leading figure in the Italian manifestation of this complex effort through the group of painters I Puristi, who flourished in Rome between about 1810 and 1815. Like the Nazarenes, a group of German painters working in Rome, and the English Pre-Raphaelites, the "Purists" effected a return to the formal values and subject matter of the early Renaissance in Italy, which they saw as a salubrious correction to the constraints of Neoclassicism, and they often chose their themes from the legendary past of modern nations rather than from heroic episodes of antiquity. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, in Rome from 1834 to 1841, furnished impetus to the Purists with his linear drawing technique and his rejection of academic theories.

As time went on, Minardi increasingly drew his subjects from religious sources, a preference he shared with his Nazarene contemporary Friedrich Overbeck. He stated his literary preferences in his autobiography: the Bible, the Gospels, the Confessions of Saint Augustine, and the writings of Dante Alighieri and Torquato Tasso, with their central themes of spiritual revelation through Christian myth (Faldi, Italo. "Il purismo e Tommaso Minardi." Commentari, vol. 1, no. 4 {October December 1950}, p. 240). Minardi's pursuit of this elusive melding of intellectual and formal currents is seen not only in his art but also in his theoretical writings, such as Del purismo nelle arti of 1843, which he co-signed with Overbeck, Pietro Tenerani, and Antonio Bianchini. He continued his activities, though with declining energy, until his death in Rome in 1871.

Mimi Cazort, from Italian Master Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2004), cat. 70.

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