by Pompeo Batoni
This person is associated with: Neoclassicism
Italian neoclassical painter from Lucca, and the most famous Roman artist of the century.
Born in a goldsmith family, Batoni moved to Rome in 1727. He started his career there by drawing ancient monuments and artworks after nature, which he sold for a living. His talents rapidly caught the eye of the Roman church and aristocracy, selling them his first important commissions.
From the end of the 1730s to the 1750s, he painted Biblical and Greco-Roman scenes in a style diverging from the prevalent Rococo dominant in Naples and Venice. Batoni remained indebted to the Bolognese classical style of the previous century, like Cignaroli at the same moment. Then he devoted himself almost exclusively to portraiture in the 1750s onwards and was left unchallenged in the Eternal City after the departure of Mengs to Madrid in 1761.
Batoni's workshop rapidly became a compulsory destination of all the British tourists. These young gentlemen travelled to Venice, where they bought vedute from Canaletto, Bellotto or Guardi, then sat for Batoni in Rome. Few were however affluent enough to afford a full-length portrait by the Roman master; this privilege was therefore reserved to high ranked aristocrats or princes. In these full-length portraits, he often added reproductions of ancient artworks, such as Roman busts or statuettes on a table, in order to display the classical education of the sitter (most of them graduated from Oxford or Cambridge); some Roman monuments were also shown in the background, frequently the Colosseum or the Forum. About three quarters of Batoni's portraits were nonetheless half-length, but he still managed to show the sitter's aristocratic elegance, through their rich clothes, arrogant traits and smirky smile.
Contrary to the Vedutisti who went to England and Vienna, Batoni never left Italy, but his fame was so high that several prominent princes made the trip to Rome to have their picture taken from him, such as the Duke of York, or even Emperor Joseph II and Leopold II, whom he painted in a spectacular double portrait in 1769.
Surprisingly, most of his works are still located in British country houses, where their buyers put them after their return from the Grand Tour; Uppark (in Sussex) and Basidlon Park (near Reading) have the best collection of his paintings. Probably that their low value did not incite their owners to sale them, albeit Batoni's works have recently fetched higher prices at auctions. His Susannah and the Elders therefore sold for $20 million in 2012.
Both Eton College and the Besançon Museum of Fine Arts own good collections of his drawings thanks to the bequests of Richard Topham for the former, and Jean Gigoux in 1894 for the latter.
Clark, Anthony M., Pompeo Batoni: A Complete Catalogue of His Works with an Introductory Text. Edited and prepared for publication by Edgar Peters Bowron. New York, New York University Press, 1985.