Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pompeo Batoni, the Most English of the Italian Painters

When young aristocrats went on the Grand Tour as their rite of passage into manhood they needed to bring back proof of their journey. Artifacts, antiques, and paintings of Vesuvius usually made their way home to decorate their future estates back in the British Isles. But those souvenirs could be things that just anyone picked up! The young masters needed more proof of their completion of the Grand Tour. For that, they would usually go to Pompeo Batoni.

At the age of 19 Batoni moved to Rome and apprenticed with a few of the city's painters. By the 1750's Batoni had established himself with the British tourists as a skilled portrait painter who cost much less than Reynolds and worked faster too. He is now credited with inventing the Grand Tour Portrait. Sitters were usually placed in a luxurious setting, complete with a classical (and recognizable) statue from Rome such as Laocoon. In the distance there was usually an Italian landscape (further proof), possibly with a recognizable structure such as the Coliseum or Vesuvius. These painting were not only meant to document the proof of the sitters' completion of the Grand Tour but also to express their enlightenment. The sitters' dogs commonly accompanied their owners in the portraits as a display of their sensitivity to nature, another Enlightenment value.

Batoni turned into the most sought after Italian painter among the British elite. Because of his many portraits of them, he is often lopped in with the other great English portrait-painters of the century. His style evolved to express this as well. Many of his soft hues darkened to form the rich darker ones that were so popular in the sitters' native land. However, the soft brush still shows through the dark palette revealing this painter-of-the-English's true Italian roots.

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