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Giovanni David

Italian, 1749 - 1790

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Giovanni David, a painter and printmaker of the late Genoese Baroque, was born in Cabella in the province of Liguria in 1743. In 1770 he moved to Rome and entered the studio of Domenico Corvi, whose style is reflected in David's early painting Moses Handing Down the Law, which won him the premio balestra of the Accademia di San Luca in 1775. He found a patron in Giacomo Durazzo, a diplomat and former director of the Viennese court theater as well as a print collector whose collection formed the basis of the Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna. Durazzo had encouraged David's move to Rome and, as Genoese ambassador to Venice, supported the artist's subsequent decision to resettle in that city. There, David designed scenery for the Teatro La Fenice and produced a series of satirical etchings on Venetian types.

After a brief tour of France, England, and the Netherlands, he settled permanently in Genoa around 1780. His oeuvre is characterized by contrasts. He produced vast bombastic canvases on official demand, such as The Defeat of the Pisan Fleet at Meloria for the Sal del Gran Consiglio in the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa around 1783 (for examples of his Rococo mythological decorations in Genoa, see Cera, Adriano, ed. La pittura neoclassica italiana. Repertori fotografici, vol. 6. Milan: Longanesi, 1987, pls. 321-22). On the other hand, his smaller works on paper can be inventive and whimsical, as in the watercolor series The Legends of Hercules (Pesenti, Franco, Renzo. "L'illuminismo e l'età neoclassica." In La pittura a Genova e in Liguria, vol. 2, Dal seicento alprimo novecento, editorial direction by Ennio Poleggi. Genoa: Sagep, 1971, figs. 271-72), in which he incorporates sympathetic animal depictions reminiscent of his Genoese forebear Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione. David also produced some paintings for Genoese churches, few of which have been identified.

He executed prints after Andrea Mantegna, Jacopo Bellini, Giulio Romano, and Ludovico Carracci and made etchings after his own designs, which also show his debt to Castiglione, the Genoese master of that medium (for a detailed discussion of David's etchings, see C. G. Boerner, Düsseldorf. Etchings by Giovanni David; Radierung von Giovanni David. Düsseldorf and New York: C. G. Boerner, 2000). Unfortunately, little remains of the work that occupied his last years, the decoration of the church of Sant'Agnese in Genoa.

A self-portrait shows the artist richly attired in embroidered vest and lace cuffs and holding an artist's palette (Cera. Adriano, ed. La pittura neoclassica italiana. Repertori fotografici, vol. 6. Milan: Longanesi, 1987, pl. 319). His penchant for using symbolism to convey his message is shown by the inclusion in the portrait of the faint allegorical figure of a triumphant charioteer with a star in the background, denoting his confidence in the artist's profession. David died in Genoa in 1790.

Mimi Cazort, from Italian Master Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2004), cat. 49.

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