Pompeo Batoni Favourite Master of Painters in Eighteenth-Century Rome
Introduction • Pompeo Batoni (1708-87) was the most famous Italian portrait painter of the 1700s. He was Born in Lucca and moved to Rome in 1727. He became a successful painter of religious and historical subjects and took up portraiture in the late 1740s. See Teachers’ Notes
Early Background • His father, Paolino Batoni was a goldsmith and Pompeo entered his father’s workshop at an early age. • He was chosen to design and decorate a gold chalice which he presented himself to the pope in Rome. His artistic talent was clear at this stage even before he began to paint. See Teachers’ Notes
How it all began • He was talent-spotted at the age of 24 by a nobleman in 1732 while making a drawing in a doorway. He was so impressed by Batoni’s talent that he offered him a commission on the spot. This was the beginning of a fantastic career. See Teachers’ Notes
The first commission • Batoni started by preparing a cartoon for the altarpiece “The Virgin and Child with the Blessed Peitro, Castora, Forte, and Lodolfo”, (1732-33). When the canvas was completed he was paid the same as other much more experienced artists earned at the time – a real mark of appreciation. See teachers’ Notes
Early Altarpieces • His popularity quickly grew and he made many altarpieces, which made him quite famous and can be considered the beginning of his successful career. His altarpieces were clearly influenced by Raphael who he had studied previously. See Teachers’ Notes
Batoni the Artist • Following the success and fame he had gained from his altarpieces, Batoni began to work as a portrait artist in the 1740’s. • For nearly half a century he recorded the international travellers who visited the city on the Grand Tour, and these portraits are some of the most important artistic outcomes of the time. More than two thirds of his 225 known portraits are of British sitters. See Teachers’ Notes
He was a celebrity with international travellers, especially the British. • He also painted allegorical, religious and mythological paintings which were widely prized and collected by emperors, kings, popes and princes. See Teachers’ Notes
His portrait work began with informal representations of sitters shown indoors in the presence of famous antiquities, or in outdoor settings with suggestions of the Roman Campagna in the background. These portraits showed off Batoni’s skill in enhancing the appearance and importance of his sitters. • By making them look fashionably elegant, sophisticated, laid back and relaxed, Batoni made them seem entirely at home in the unfamiliar surroundings of Rome. See Teachers’ Notes
Batoni’s ability to show his sitters’ status and interests through their clothes was unrivalled and he paid particular attention to the details of dress because he knew this was important to his sitters. Foreign travel, especially the Grand Tour, allowed men to buy fine Italian clothing which was brighter in colour and more lavishly decorated than the styles worn in England.
His portraits were accurate and flattering. • He also communicated the interests of sitters through gestures, clothing, and props such as sculptures, books and maps. His command of light and colour was unmatched by his rivals. In particular, he painted fashionable fabrics and furs with striking realism.
There was increasing international interest in Rome’s past which made it a popular tourist destination. Rather like current-day tourists having their photo taken in front of a famous building or tourist attraction, Batoni included antique marble statues and Roman monuments in his paintings to show that the Grand Tourist was in Rome. See Teachers’ Notes
The antiquities Batoni included in his portraits were well established in the guidebooks his clients brought with them. This meant that they were easily recoginsed by the English back home. • The famous statues and monuments which Batoni included in his portraits were mainly from a collection in a museum which Batoni knew extremely well, as he had trained by making meticulous studies of them so he could use these drawings to work from 30 years later.
His ‘trademark’ compositional props were landscape scenery, classical sculpture, guidebooks and maps, all suggesting the location and the refined interests of the sitter.
Batoni constantly aimed to improve his effect, vivid palette and painstaking painting of the textures and surfaces of marble, lace, velvet and fur. His use of “a virtuoso display of restless detail” resulted in striking depictions of Englishmen in Rome on the Grand Tour. • He really was very good! See Teachers’ Notes
He was influenced by Van Dyck, through the use of columns and pillars which were typical Baroque features. In this way his work referenced English painting traditions and brought a familiarity to the Rome sittings. The inclusion of dogs was also linked to British portrait traditions and also many Grand Tourists took their dog with them!
Batoni was a perfectionist but he did not work slowly. He kept his clients waiting because he was in such demand. Some of his portraits took years to complete and John Rolle Walter’s may not have been delivered until long after his return home. See Teachers’ Notes
Baroque and Rococco art • Batoni’s art was typical of the period in which he worked. At the time he worked, serious Baroque art was steadily changing under the growing influence of the Rococco style. • Rococco Art began in the 1720s and was characterised by less formal and more intimate and playful paintings which displayed bold colour, rhythmic compositions and strong patterns – it was quite a frivolous period for art which reflects the society at the time. • Batoni’s interest in capturing individual expressions, gestures and movements is typical of the Rococco style. However, when looking at his portraits, signs of the influence of the Van Dyck-Italian baroque tradition in which he grew up are easy to spot.
The Baroque influence on Batoni’s work is evident in his love of painting the textures of furs, velvets, lace etc. in the most exquisite detail. The Baroque period emphasised the sensory nature of life and experiences, celebrating life and nature as a direct development from the religious traditions in art.
How he would have trained and worked • Drawing was always the foundation of his art and the source of his inspiration. • It is said that he learnt to draw secretly at night as a boy using materials found around the house, as his father forbade him to draw outside of the workshop because he wanted to teach him goldsmithing. He also studied figures modelled in clay which he took from his father’s workshop, a method of working that he may have incorporated into his studio practice in Rome.
From the moment he arrived in Rome in 1727, Batoni took part in the traditional activities of young artists who arrived in the city; namely studying the antique sculptures on display in the Vatican’s Belvedere courtyard and other collections in Rome. He copied Raphael’s frescoes in the Vatican and other acknowledged masterpieces of modern painting; and drawing from life models in private academies. • In this way, the young artist developed in the ‘correct’ manner and mastered the ‘true’ sources of the Roman School: antiquity, Raphael and nature. See Teachers’ Notes
In eighteenth-century Rome, the ability to faithfully reproduce the work of another artist was considered a critical aspect of a young painter’s training. Not only did the student learn manual skills through copying, he also gained knowledge of other styles, materials and techniques. • Paintings by Raphael were considered the embodiment of perfection in art. See Teachers’ Notes
Drawing was central to Batoni’s art throughout his lifetime, but the precise formal style which he perfected early in his life gradually became looser, softer and more painterly as he matured. • The softer, more delicate handling which he employed later creates a more heightened effect of atmosphere than in his earlier drawings. See Teachers’ Notes
Batoni created thousands of drawings in his lifetime. He also often relied on oil sketches at various stages in the preparatory process of a painting, but didn’t generally use sketches for his portraits, which he painted directly from the sitter. • The oil sketches served two main purposes in his history and allegorical paintings: firstly, to work out compositional ideas – these sketches would have been quite rough for his own personal use; secondly as a working model for large-scale work which he would have presented to the patron for approval before beginning the major piece – these were highly detailed and finished studies.
Painting Materials, Methods and Techniques • As a painter, Batoni possessed an extraordinary breadth of technical skills that enabled him to think and create work ranging in size from miniatures on ivory to altarpieces exceeding six metres in height.
Most of his canvases were traditional sizes for portraits at the time (generally about 74 x 61cms for a head and shoulders portrait), although sometimes he made canvases specially sized to fit a client’s specifications. • He usually primed his canvases with a smooth pink-red ground, although in most paintings this is only visible in discrete, small areas. • The use of the red ground helps to mute and unify colours and was consistent with other Roman painters’ practice at the time. See Teachers’ Notes
The red ground created a warm base under transparent glazes. • His paint handling varies from a rich paste to transparent pigmented glazes. • He painted rapidly in one or two layers, wet-into-wet, and although the texture of the brushstrokes is visible throughout, his handling is neat, precise and controlled.
Areas of costume trim, lace and fur are usually brushed in higher relief than the surrounding surfaces and it is clear that he was interested in ‘finish’ and in the attractiveness of the surface of his paintings. • He liked to create dazzling pictorial effects and he enjoyed praise for his masterful handling of paint – he knew he was good and liked to show off! See Teachers’ Notes
Batoni’s handling of paint in his portraits is brilliant. The play of light around and through the composition, the way in which it enters the painting, defining highlights and shadows, is highly sophisticated. • Close analysis of the paint surfaces suggests that he would have painted the faces in the portraits first.
Studio Practices • Batoni learnt to paint by copying works of great masters including Raphael and Reni. • Although he began his portrait work by making chalk or pencil sketches, he quickly developed the technique of painting the sitter’s likeness directly onto the canvas which captured the detail of the face. He was then able to complete the rest of the painting later, as he’d already done the face. He would have employed a model later to pose in costume with lights to work from for the rest of the painting. This way, the sitter wouldn’t have to come to the studio too much for the portrait and could get on with his Grand Tour while the portrait was painted and Batoni didn’t waste time making sketches prior to the painting. Nearly all of the portraits were completed after the sitters had departed from Rome. See Teachers’ Notes
When you compare Batoni’s portraits you notice that he frequently re-used props, poses and motifs from one painting to the next. For example, the positions of the sitter’s hands, or the use of staircases, sometimes turned to face in different directions in one portrait to the next. • EG Compare portraits of John Chetwynd Talbot (1773) and Henry Peirse (1775) – one becomes the mirror of the other. He sometimes deliberately painted the portraits of travelling companions in complementary poses. See Teachers’ Notes
Batoni painted with exceptional speed, and he even boasted that he could finish a half-length devotional painting in fifteen days. However, he was never satisfied with his work in progress, and continued to adjust and refine the surfaces of his pictures long after they were ‘completed’ in the conventional sense of the word. “I always give the last touches to my paintings when framed”.
Due to his perfectionism, even though he could paint very fast, his clients were often frustrated as he was reluctant to let them take their paintings from his studio. As a result, some portraits could often take several years before the patrons received them. • Another reason for his slowness, was that he accepted so many commissions and always had numerous paintings on the go at once. • My honour requires me to dispatch no work that isn’t finished with the greatest attention and diligence… • Pompeo Batoni, 1744 See Teachers’ Notes
“It is necessary to use a great deal of attention to attain the maximum perfection in a work of art; by nature I am never satisfied with what I do, but rather I always feel that something is missing in the painting and I continue working.” • Pompeo Batoni to Lodovico Sardini, 5 May 1742