Raffaele Giannetti (Italian, 1837 – 1915)

Dante e Beatrice

Raffaele Giannetti (Italian, 1837 – 1915) “Dante e Beatrice” Oil on canvas. 27.5 x 17.75 inches

He was born in Porto Maurizio (today Imperia) on 24 October 1837 to Giovanni and Beatrice Vassallo.

He received his first art education from an amateur painter. The promising talents shown right from the start aroused the interest and patronage of two wealthy locals, Leonardo Gastaldi, his future client, and Francesco Bensa, who directed him towards an academic training.

In 1851 Giannetti attended for a short time the nude school of the Ligurian Academy of Genoa and then moved on to the Albertina Academy of Turin, where he followed, among other things, the courses of C. Arienti.

Later, due to the interest of one of his teachers, G. Marghinotti, he moved to Rome with F. Coghetti, professor of painting at the Accademia di S. Luca, thanks also to a sort of scholarship provided to him by the Municipality of Porto Maurizio.

With the painting Samson condemned to the millstone (location unknown) in 1858 he made his debut at the Genoese Promotrice di belle arti, to which he regularly sent his works until 1880.

The following year he took part in it with The Colloquium of Charles V and Clement VII (Imperia, Pinacoteca civica), commissioned by Gastaldi and inspired by an episode taken from the Siege of Florence by F.G. Guerrazzi.

The work inaugurated a series of canvases, often large in size, of evident historical-literary inspiration, a vehicle of patriotic and Risorgimento content, albeit with a moderate character, intended for rich bourgeois clients.

Based on the meticulous attention to detail and the rendering of historical data, these works are generally characterized by a high level of formal elaboration and by a very accurate sign, as can also be seen in some drawings conserved in the Drawings and Prints Cabinet of the Palazzo Rosso in Genoa, such as Figure of a young man, Figure of a young girl, Woman giving alms and Waiting.

Also from 1859 is the controversial Bernabò Visconti orders the messengers of Innocent VI to swallow the papal bull (location unknown), inspired by the Lombard Stories published by the novel by G.B. Benoni, exhibited at the Genoese Promotrice of 1863.

The painting, known thanks to an engraving (Genoa, Ligustica Academy), appeared to have little regard for the Church and caused Giannetti to be expelled from the territory of the Papal State.

In 1860 he took part in the Genoese Promotrice with Malatesta Baglione traitor of the Florentine Republic, taken from the History of Florence by B. Varchi.

The painting is of unknown whereabouts like Vittore Pisani released from prison exhibited in Venice in 1864: this large canvas, commissioned by Gastaldi and presented the following year at the Promoter of Genoa, earned him the praise of F. Hayez and the nomination honorary member of the Venetian Academy, because “a Genoese painter performed a generous act by exalting with his brush the Venetian hero who successfully stood up to victorious Genoa at the end of the Chioggia war”.

After a first stay in Venice, in the second half of the sixties G. was able to perfect his training in Paris, thanks to a sort of annuity provided to him by Gastaldi.

In Paris he attended the studios of the most famous masters of pompier painting.

From T. Couture he assimilated the taste for historical-mythological themes, built through large compositions inspired by the Venetian sixteenth century and French classicism, as can be seen in the paintings La fine di Messalina (c. 1865-67) and Giulio Cesare (1867).

However, he was no less sensitive to certain exotic-orientalist tendencies, driven by the intellectual search for alternative models to European society, following the example of the various J.-L. Gérôme, T. Chassériau, L. Bonnat.

G. seems to have looked to the latter in particular for the works Scena fiorentina and Messaggero d’amore (c. 1870), where joyful and sensual matrons in costume, and reassuring domestic pictures, seem to be inspired however more by a local folklore than in distant lands.

Strong suggestions were also assimilated by P. Delaroche, a very scrupulous observer of the school of A.-J. Gros, capable of iconographic solutions that concentrate in themselves the maximum dramatic potential.

In addition to the usual historical subjects (for example, Benvenuto Cellini and Francesco I, a work painted in 1867 in Paris, then purchased for the royal house of Bavaria and now of unknown location) from Delaroche Giannetti took that eagerness for documentation which led him to reconstructions plausible, to the scruple of details, to the use of a finished color, increasingly smoother, spread evenly and completed by a patina that erases all traces of brushstrokes.

The assiduous attendance of the Parisian studies earned him participation in the Universal Exposition of 1867, where he presented, alongside the grandiose Death of Alessandro de’ Medici by G. Castagnola, the Meeting of Gaspara Stampa with the Count of Collalto in Murano, inspired by the Veronese.

In 1871 he returned to Venice, where he settled. In the same year, with the gigantic canvas Giovanni Barbarigo frees Maria Queen of Hungary in the year 1380 from the prison of the castle of Castelnuovo, he won the Querini-Stampalia competition.

The work, kept in the same Venetian foundation, also earned him the gold medal at the 1873 Vienna International Exhibition.

This is the largest and most complex composition of armor painted by Giannetti: fourteen figures appear in the foreground, the result of an extraordinary study from life of armor, laboriously investigated and faithfully reproduced, as demonstrated by the numerous preparatory studies conserved at the Academy ligustica of Genoa.

In 1874 he went to Florence in search of documentation for the realization of the Death of Beatrice which was exhibited two years later at the Exhibition of Fine Arts in Naples, together with the Titian painting at the Ferrara court; thanks to the two works, both of unknown location, the painter obtained a prize and, at the behest of D. Morelli, the appointment as emeritus member of the Neapolitan Academy.

His work of those years was characterized by a strong literary evocation, the result of a patriotic pride which sought in the great figures of Italian culture the foundations of a common heritage (Torquato Tasso and Eleonora d’Este, 1873; Dante and Beatrice in the garden of Boboli, 1877; Petrarca and Laura, 1882: all of unknown whereabouts).

Parallel to this vein, he joined that of portraits, working in particular for the Genoese family of the Bertollos; Few specimens of this production are currently known: the Head of a Young Woman in a private collection belongs to the portraiture.

At the turn of the seventies and eighties he made numerous (and unfortunately poorly documented) trips to European cities, where he was able to expand the circle of buyers.

In Great Britain he came into contact with the Victorian painter F. Leighton and with the poet A. Tennyson, from whom he was inspired for the creation of two small canvases – Enoc Arden and Queen Guinevere (location unknown) – purchased by Queen Victoria for the Windsor Collection.

Precisely the remarkable success enjoyed by private collectors throughout Europe is at the basis of the dispersion of most of the artist’s works, whose catalog is now limited to a small number of works.

In the last decade of the century he abandoned painting of historical subjects to turn, with a certain delay, towards the direct study of truth, according to a line of research that had already manifested itself in Liguria since the 1960s by artists such as G Castagnola, F. Semino, N. Barabino, following the Tuscan example of the Macchiaioli.

Paintings such as Stable with yoked ox (Genoa, Modern Art Gallery) belong to this phase; Procession in the countryside (private collection); Country fair (private collection); The return from the Camposanto to Venice and Girl from Lucerne.

In 1890 he returned definitively to Genoa, although from the catalog of the first, and for him only, Venice International Art Exhibition, in which he took part with the not better known Idillio casalingo, it appears that in 1895 he lived in the lagoon city.

Starting in the 1990s he devoted himself to a more reserved activity, outside the official circuits, which allowed him more daring and casual formal research, less constrained in the choice of iconography.

In the Palette of the Modern Art Gallery of Genoa, for example, a woman’s head, a child and a lady with a parasol are sketched with chronicle taste, through “that technique, which repudiated flat, smooth, oleographic surfaces to reach with the torment of the brushstroke, the light and the air, the environment, life”.

Giannetti also turned particular interest to landscape painting, which allowed him to conduct research on the use of light and color, attempting to lighten the palette, eliminating the blacks and browns, so dear to history painting, seeking formal solutions that towards the new painting preached in Florence by the Macchiaioli, in Turin by C. Pittara and, then, by A. Fontanesi, in Genoa by E. Rayper and S. De Avendano.

Grosso noted in this regard: “The technical research of light must have tormented the soul of the artist who studied its effects by decomposing the brushstroke in the compositions only where the sun flickered with modern intentions, not always logically related to the whole pictorial problem of divisionism”, a trend that had already been spreading in Liguria since the early 1990s.

Paintings such as In the lagoon, Bosco and San Martino d’ Albaro belong to his landscape painting of the years between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

He died in Genoa on December 27, 1915.

Eight years later the city dedicated a large retrospective exhibition to him which was set up in Palazzo Rosso.