Exhibition | Giuseppe Marchesi (il Sansone)

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on May 17, 2023

Giuseppe Marchesi, known as il Sansone, Moses and the Daughters of Jethro / Mosé e le figlie di Jethro, ca. 1720–25, oil on canvas
(Private Collection)

◊    ◊    ◊    ◊    ◊

Bologna’s Musei Civici d’Arte Antica hosts the first monographic exhibition on the early career of the painter Giuseppe Marchesi, known as Samson.

Leggiadro Barocco: L’attività giovanile di Giuseppe Marchesi detto il Sansone
Collezioni Comunali d’Arte, Palazzo d’Accursio, Bologna, 1 April — 2 September 2023

Curated by Antonella Mampieri and Angelo Mazza

Giuseppe Marchesi (1699–1771)—of restless temperament and imposing build, to which he owed his nickname ‘Samson’—was among the most fruitful painters in cosmopolitan 18th-century Bologna, where the art scene was as lively as ever. He was, however, forgotten as a result of changes in the history of taste. Leggiadro Barocco: L’attività giovanile di Giuseppe Marchesi detto il Sansone aims to rediscover this significant painter from the classicist side of the Bolognese school. A pupil of leading artists of the previous generation, including Aureliano Milani and Marcantonio Franceschini, Marchesi was part of the local painting tradition that found an indispensable model in the Carracci and their pupils—particularly Guido Reni, Francesco Albani, and Domenichino.

Giuseppe Marchesi, known as il Sansone, Autumn, from The Four Seasons, ca. 1725, oil on canvas (Bologna: Pinacoteca Nazionale).

This stylistic orientation was also supported and promoted by the city’s main artistic institution, the Accademia Clementina, to which Marchesi belonged, holding a variety of positions, didactic and directorial, until his appointment as Principe in 1752. His subsequent artistic evolution led him to the gradual abandonment of an Arcadian classicism in favor of an almost Mannerist style, similar to that of Francesco Monti and Vittorio Maria Bigari. Marchesi’s biography, present only in the manuscript lives composed by the Bolognese scholar Marcello Oretti in the second half of the century, is missing in Luigi Crespi’s Felsina Pittrice (1739) and appears only marginally in the Storia dell ’ Accademia Clementina by Giampietro Zanotti (1739), who nevertheless recognized, along with Luigi Lanzi, Marchesi’s remarkable artistic qualities for “a manner of painting so beautiful and so strong, that all delight, and good, and great fame comes to him.”

Early on there was overlap between Marchesi’s work and that of his contemporary Ercole Graziani, so much so that at the 1935 Mostra del Settecento Bolognese, which marked the resurgence of interest in this period of local art history, many of the works now ascribed to Marchesi were attributed to Graziani. It was up to critic Renato Roli to make a brilliant first reconstruction of Marchesi’s oeuvre in 1971, distinguishing the hands of the two painters. Subsequent studies, conducted mainly by Antonella Mampieri and Angelo Mazza, expanded the catalogue of known paintings, adding specimens of graphics and engravings made from Marchesi’s drawings. The ability to blend warm colors and strong musculature, derived from the Carracci, with the Arcadian grace of drawing, typical of Franceschini’s painting, made Samson a fashionable painter, up to date with the post-Baroque trends that were already in vogue in France and Austria, appreciated by the public and his colleagues.

A prolific and garrulous petit maître, his lively narrative vein yielded extremely pleasing results, especially in his younger years. The culmination of this phase was the fresco decoration of the vault and apse of the church of Santa Maria di Galliera, in Bologna, Marchesi’s first great public commission (1732–44), which established his reputation as a painter at home, in other Italian regions, and in other European countries, including England and Holland.

Giuseppe Marchesi, known as il Sansone, The Abduction of Helen, 1725 (Bologna: Collezioni d’Arte e di Storia della Cassa di Risparmio).

The exhibition, designed for the Collezioni Comunali d’Arte, which keeps in its permanent collection the painting Clement VIII Returning the Keys of the City to the Elders of Bologna, focuses on the early period of the artist’s elegant and graceful career: his relationship with Marcantonio Franceschini, who transmitted to him his moderate Arcadian taste, to 1725, the conventional starting point of Marchesi’s independent career. Two paintings recently found on the antiques market and exhibited here for the first time from a private collection—Moses and the Daughters of Jethro and Solomon Censoring the Idols, the success of which is demonstrated by the presence of copies at the Museo Diocesano in Imola—and other examples of paintings of sacred and profane themes demonstrate the artist’s youthful style. These include the Four Seasons from the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Bologna and The Drunkenness of Noah, now in a private collection. Completing the exhibition are a miniature Portrait of a Maiden preserved at the Museo Civico d’Arte Industriale and Galleria Davia Bargellini and two lively drawings from the the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio in Bologna: The Abduction of the Sabine Women and The Abduction of Helen, preparatory projects for a large painting to be made in the hall of honor of the house that later belonged to the Buratti merchants, promoters of the arts and various Bolognese artists. Only the second one, dated 1725, was later realized by the painter, opening his documented career.

Leggiadro Barocco: L’attività giovanile di Giuseppe Marchesi detto il Sansone proposes a renewed reading of this protagonist of the Bolognese ’barocchetto’, allowing new hypotheses on the chronological ordering of his early work. The exhibition is accompanied by a publication edited by Antonella Mampieri and Angelo Mazza, with the collaboration of Silvia Battistini, a preface by Massimo Medica, text by Mirko Bonora, and essays by Antonella Mampieri and Angelo Mazza.


%d bloggers like this: