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Reclining Male Nude Posed as the Dead Christ
Giuseppe Bottani, Italian, 1717 - 1784
- This life study of a nude comes from a tradition that can be traced back to Accademia of the Carracci, which had affirmed the intellectual underpinning of such a basic artistic practice. While the drawing of the nude predicated comparison with antique statuary, thereby making the practice a scholarly and antiquarian pursuit, it was also part of the rational scientific study of anatomy. Its closest antecedents were the classicizing tradition of the seventeenth century. Eighteenth-century artists sought their models in the various poses and attitudes offered by the nudes in Carracci's Farnese Gallery (c. 1598-1602) rather than Michelangelo's anthology of poses and daring foreshortenings in the ceiling (1515-11) and The Last Judgment of the Sistine chapel. There was a renewed interest in the study of the nude in the same years during which, in 1754, the well-run government of Rome under the secretary of state Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga promoted the institution of the Accademia del Nudo in the extremely prestigious location of the Capitoline (Pietrangeli 1959; Pietrangeli 1962, "Accademia"; Barroero 1998). In competition with this and the official institutions, including the French Academy in the Palazzo Mancini, new private academies sprang up where drawing from the nude found its most rigorous definition in the naturalistic classical tradition; among them were those of Placido Costanzi, Domenico Corvi, Anton Raphael Mengs, and, toward the end of the decade, Laurent Pécheux, who for a long time enjoyed the collaboration and guidance of Batoni (on their troubled relations, see Bollea 1936). A new method of interpreting the nude appeared, distinct from but not rejecting the tradition of the Carracci and Maratti, most recently represented by such masters as Benefial and Subleyras. The new practice was to fix the most exact contours of the figure, almost tracing them as if they were projected in an optical box, and to eliminate any sense of pictorial illusion. In this context an almost Domenichino-like purism distinguishes Bottani in the Roman art world. It found its best expression in the numerous life studies the artist produced with no intention of using them in his own painting. As for other artists, such an output acquired an autonomous value, even if partly didactic, and was also intended for collectors and connoisseurs (Campbell and Carlson 1993, p. 84, no. 3). Proof of how highly valued these academic studies were is that by 1774, Carlo Bianconi acquired four of Bottani's life drawings for the Sala dei Gessi of the Accademia di Brera in Milan. There, students could compare their own life drawings from nude life models, with casts of the most famous statues of antiquity and with life studies by major contemporary artists of the Roman School such as Batoni, Mengs, Maron, and Corvi, as well as Bottani. These works represent a perfect synthesis of Roman-Bolognese classicism, as represented by Sacchi and Maratti, with the new contributions of Mengs, which were known in Italy through the Italian translation of his theoretical writings. The two Bottani sheets in the Brera, and this one from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, appear to have been executed "with the ultimate Purity" (Mengs 1787, p. 208) that Mengs recommended for restoring to human beauty "the idea of an animal, which has both lightness and strength" (Mengs 1787, p. 17). That Bottani's life studies should be considered at least equal to those of the above cited masters is supported by the high price that the artist's brother put on the drawing after Bottani's death. In the "List of the drawings owned by Gio. Bottani which shall be disposed of by being assigned to the Academy of Mantua for the perpetual use of the school of painting" (Milan, Archivio di Stato, Fondo Studi, parte antica, b. 10; cited in Magni 1984) Giovanni Bottani catalogues ninety-six sheets for 190 zecchini, or about four Roman scudi per drawing. Before becoming director of the academy in Mantua, in April 1764, Bottani served as the director of the Scuola del Nudo, in which he had to pose the model. This seemingly easy and banal task in reality was a barometer of the director's own cultural inclinations and ideals. So too is the pose of the Christ in this drawing (Pirotta 1969, p. 330). The theme of the dead Christ with his arms lying limply by his sides looks back to a canonical model of the Pietà by Annibale Carracci then in Palazzo Farnese (now Museo di Capodimonte, Naples), a painting from which Bottani drew inspiration for one of his paintings in 1757. That work, traditionally attributed to Batoni, is now lost, but is known from old photographs (see Susinno 1978, p. 312, no. 13; erroneously as Batoni in Manieri Elia). It is a link between Bottani and two drawings of problematic attribution, representing the dead Christ, now in the Uffizi, that were included in the Batoni exhibition of 1967 with a provisional attribution to him, but a cautious admission that the artist might have been Bottani (Belli Barsalni 1967, p.169; see also Clark and Bowron 1985, p. 378, no. D7). Nevertheless, those drawings are characterized by a stronger rendering with more emphasis on light and shade, than in this life study, which is already close to Neoclassicism. In the absence of dated examples of life drawings by Bottani--apart from the ante quem of 1779 for the two Brera sheets--it is difficult to suggest a chronological frame for his known nude studies, many of which were dispersed in the late 1960s after a sale by his descendants (see the photos in the Bibliotheca Hertziana and Gabinetto Fotografico Nazionale), although they seem to predate the drawings of a marked naturalism that Domenico Corvi, the most admired draughtsman of nudes in Neoclassical Rome, produced in the 1780s and 1790s. Their high quality, so evident here, is based not only on the refined use of red chalk or pencil on paper often tinted in the most delicate pastel colors, but above all on an impeccable rendering of anatomy seen in light of an idealized model. Stefano Susinno, from Art in Rome in the Eighteenth Century (2000), cat. 322, pp. 478-479. Works Cited
Pietrangeli, Carlo. "'L'Accademia del nudo' in Campidoglio." Strenna dei romanisti, vol. 20 (1959), pp. 123-28. Reprinted in Cipriani et al. 1995, pp. 305-7.
Pietrangeli, Carlo. "La Fontana di Piazza di Campidoglio di Hubert Robert." Capitolum, vol. 37 (1962), n.p.
Barroero, Liliana. "I primi anni della Scuola del Nudo in Campidoglio." In Biagi Maino 1998, pp. 367-84.
Bollea, Luigi Cesare. Lorenzo Pécheux, maestro di pittura nella R. Accademia delle Belle Arti di Torino. Turin, Italy, 1936.
Campbell, Richard J., and Victor Carlson, eds.Visions of Antiquity: Neoclassical Figure Drawings. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Minneapolis: The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1993, p. 84.
Mengs, Anton Raphael. Opere di Antonio Raffaello Mengs. Rome: Stamperia Pagliarini, 1787.
Magni, Mariaclotilde. "Documenti per il pittore Giuseppe Bottani." Arte lombarda, n.s. vol. 68-69 (1984), pp. 147-50.
Pirotta, Luigi. "I 'direttori' dell'Accademia del Nudo Campidoglio." Strenna dei romanisti, vol. 30 (1969), pp. 326-34.
Susinno, Stefano. "Gli scritti in memoria di Maria Cionini Visani ed un contributo a Giuseppe Bottani, pittore de storia." Antologia di Belle Arti, vol. 2 (1978), pp. 308-12.
Belli Barsali, Isa, ed. Mostra di Pompeo Batoni Lucca, Italy: Maria Pacini Fazzi, 1967, p.169.
Clark, Anthony M. Pompeo Batoni: A Complete Catalogue of His Works. Edited by Edgar Peters Bowron. New York: New York University Press, 1985.