Batoni, Pompeo

, one of the greatest painters of the last century, was born Feb. 5, 1708, at Lucca. His father, a goldsmith, devoted him to that art, to which he had but little inclination. It afforded him, however, occasion to exercise himself in drawing, and to exhibit his excellent talent for painting, and the first specimen of his skill which attracted notice was a golden cup of exquisite workmanship, which he executed so satisfactorily, that his capacity was thought to be far superior to the trade of a goldsmith: and, at the instance of his godfather Alexander Q,uinigi, several patriotic noblemen agreed to send him to the Roman academy of painting, at their common expence. We are told that until he had reached his seventh year, he was | and deformed, and had not the power to turn his. head on either side without moving his whole body, and that throughout life his appearance was such as bespoke no extraordinary genius. When his friends took charge of his education as an artist, father Diversi, of the order of Philippines, and the abbe Fatinelli, envoy at Rome from the republic of Lucca, to whom he was recommended, took him to Sebastian Concha and Augustine Masucci, who were at that time the most renowned masters of the Roman school, that he might make choice of one of them for his tutor and guide. But the antiques, and Raphael’s works, from the very first, made so strong an impression on his mind, that he chose rather to avoid the modern manner, and form himself entirely on the old. The sensibility with which nature had endowed him, made him feel that there could be but one true manner in the practice of the art, and that none of the modern, which depart so far from the antique, could be the right. Accordingly, rejecting the advice of his masters, he devoted himself to the study of the antiques and the works of Raphael d‘Urbino. How diligent he was in this practice is seen in the heads still in being, which he copied from the Dispute on the Sacrament, a copy of the school of Athens, painted in oil and not quite finished, and the various commissions he received from foreigners for drawings of the best originals.

He soon became sensible of the method by which Raphael and the antients arose to that high degree of perfection. To catch nature in the fact in all her movements, was their grand maxim, and this muxim Baton! followed. Hence all his figures have the attitude and motion the nature of the case requires. In his paintings we find no trace of the artificial composition of figures which then universally prevailed; he does not concentrate the light on some one object to the detriment of the rest, a way introduced by Maratti; no example could seduce him to deviate from the path of nature. In the hands of his heirs is still a considerable number of drawings, where he has delineated the various motions of men, and especially of children, the whole of the human figure, and the different folds of drapery, exactly after nature. These sketches he Afterwards made use of in his paintings, and finished them not only by the liveliest colouring, but also with the finest forms, which he had imprinted on his mind by the study of the antique. By these performances he acquired considerable | fame, but it having been suggested that he was inferior in the art of colouring, he endeavoured to study that branch with his usual enthusiasm and ambition, and having obtained an order from the marquis Gahrielli di Gubbio to execute a new altar-piece for the chapel of his illustrious family in the church of St. Gregory at Rome, Batoni eagerly embraced this favourable opportunity for convincingthe public of his skill in colouring; and he succeeded so well, that the connoisseurs of Rome extolled his colouring as much as they had done his drawing.

As the excellency of Batoni was now decidedly confessed, he had frequent and advantageous orders. The learned prelate, and afterwards cardinal, Furietti, who had the direction of building the church of St. Celsus, gave him the picture of the high altar to execute, which Mengs held to be the purest and most ingenious of all his performances.

In the immaculate conception, which has been more than a thousand times a subject for painters, Batoni succeeded so well for the church of the Philippines at Chiari near Brescia, as to excite the attention and admiration of all good judges. His next piece was the story of Simon the magician for the church of St. Peter at Rome; and among his other most admired pictures we may notice the two great altar-pieces which he executed for the city of Brescia, whereof one represents St. Johannes Nepomucenus with Mary; and the other the offering of the latter; two others for the city of Lucca, one of St. Catherine of Siena, and the other of St. Bartholomew; another for Messina, of the apostle James; and for Parma, John preaching in the wilderness; as also the many scriptural pieces, and especially those which are so much admired in the summer-house in the papal gardens of Monte Cavallo; the chaste Susanna, in the possession of his heirs; the Hagar, in the collection of an English gentleman; the Prodigal son, in that of the cardinal duke of York; to which may be added, a multitude of pictures of the Virgin, of the holy family, and saints of both sexes, which he executed for private persons. He likewise acquired great fame by his Choice of Hercules, which he painted at first in the natural size, and afterwards smaller, for the Florentine Marchese Ginosi, as a companion to the Infant Hercules strangling the serpents. Not less animated and expressive is another picture of the same kind, in which, at the request of an English gentleman, he has depicted Bacchus and Ariadne. | Another poetical fiction, which he has superiorly expressed, is in a painting that is still with his heirs. His intention was to delineate the cares and solicitudes of a blooming beauty. She lies sleeping on a magnificent couch: but her sleep is not so profound as to break off all correspondence between the mind and the senses; it is soft and benign, as usual when a pleasing dream employs the imagination. The effigies of Peace and War was one of his finest performances, and which he executed towards the latter end of his life. Mars, in complete armour, is rushing to the combat, sword in hand; an exceedingly beautiful virgin, who casts on him a look of sweetness and intreaty, at the same time presenting him with a branch of palm, places herself directly in his way.

The vivacity of his exuberant fancy was not in the least enervated in those years when the hand no longer so implicitly obeys the mind. He painted for prince Yusupof, a Cupid returned from the chace. His game consists of hearts shot through with arrows. He lays them in the lap of the sitting Venus, and extends both his arms to embrace her. She testifies her pleasure by gentle caresses. Such fine ideas, which are always justly drawn, and expressed in the liveliest colouring, excited in every traveller, and in numbers of royal and princely personages, an earnest desire of having something of his doing. Commissions of this nature were innumerable. Among others the empress of Russia purchased of him a piece on a large scale, the subject Thetis receiving back Achilles from the centaur Chiron; and another of equal magnitude, the Continence of Scipio. He executed two pictures, representing some parts of the story of Diana, for the king of Poland, and another for the king of Prussia, with the family of Darius prostrating themselves in the presence of Alexander. Besides a wonderful delicacy of composition, this picture is rendered particularly striking by the expression of the divers passions in the faces of the captives, exactly suited to their various ages and conditions, and gradually declining from the liveliest feelings of anguish in the mother and wife of Darius, to the indifference and laughter of the slaves and children.

As Batoni was accustomed to contemplate nature in all her changes and motions, he had acquired a wonderful facility in tracing out even the most imperceptible features of the human face, which betray the frame of mind and the | character of the man. The portraits he drew during the long course of his life are not to be numbered: he had drawn not only the popes Benedict XIV. Clement XIII. and Pius VI. but almost all the great personages who visited Rome in his time, at their own particular request. When the emperor Joseph II. was at Rome in 1770, and was unexpectedly met by his brother the grand duke of Tuscany in that city, he was desirous that this meeting should be eternized on canvas by the ablest painter that could be found in Rome, and the emperor pitched upon Batoni for this purpose. The picture, when finished, so highly satisfied him, that he not only amply rewarded the master, but likewise presented him with a golden chain, to which was suspended a irudal with his portrait, and a snuff-box of gold. The late empress, mother of the two monarchs, augmented these presents by giving him a series of large golden medals, on which their principal achievements were struck, and a ring richly set with brilliants; and honoured him with a letter, in which she demanded that the likeness of her sons, which terminated at the knees, should be completed. Batoni finished the work accordingly, as is seen with universal admiration in the large copper-plates designed by himself, and engraved by Andrea Rossi. As an additional honour, Batoni, with all his male issue, were raised by the emperor to the rank of nobility, and he received from the empress a fresh commission, to paint her deceased husband, the emperor Francis, after a portrait executed at Vienna. He also here fully answered the expectation of her majesty, and, besides a suitable recompense, he received likewise the portrait of the emperor Francis, set round with large brilliants.

Batoni’ s habitation was not only the chief residence of the Genius of painting at Rome, but her sister Music dwelt there in equal state. His amiable daughter Rufina, who was at too early an age snatched away by death, was one of the completest judges of vocal music in all Italy; and no person of quality came to Rome, who was not equally desirous of seeing the paintings of Batoni, and of hearing his daughters sing. Among these were also the grand duke of Russia and his duchess. He here saw an unfinished portrait of a nobleman belonging to his suite, which pleased him so much, that he gave him orders to paint his own. But, as the departure of the illustrious travellers was so very near, he set his hand to the work on the spot. In the few | moments that were delightfully employed by the imperial guest in hearing the songs of the painter’s daughter, the artist himself was busy in sketching his picture with so striking a likeness, that the grand duchess too spared so much time from her urgent affairs in the last days of her stay, as to have her picture drawn.

It was an easy matter to him, even when an old man of 70, to work on great undertakings for several hours, without feeling any remarkable fatigue; he even employed the few moments of his leisure in executing some paintings of singular merit, such as the holy family for the grand uuke of Russia, the marriage of St. Catharina, the Peace and War, of which mention has been made above. Batoni had for some time complained of the decay of ins vigour and his sight, both of which he had preserved to an extrav>rdinary degree, though far advanced beyond his 7uth year, when in the autumn of 1786, he was touched with a slight stroke of the palsy; from which he did not so thoroughly recover, as not to feel ever after a great debility both of mind and body. On the 4th of February of the following year, 1787, death put the finishing hand to his work, by a much severer stroke, when he had arrived at the age of 79 years and one day.

He was much devoted to religion, was liberal towards the poor, friendly to his pupils, and such an enemy to pomp and ostentation, that he very seldom wore the ensigns of the order of knighthood, with which he had been invested by the pope; and always went very modestly habited. He never concerned himself about any thing but his art, and enjoyed an amiable contentedness and ease, which he would suffer nothing in the world to disturb. He carried this disposition so far, that he avoided the meetings of the academy of St. Luke, though it would have been their greatest pleasure to have followed any hints he might have thought proper to give them. Simplicity and sincerity formed the basis of his moral character. Every one seemed to be convinced of this immediately on seeing him; and rarely did any person feel himself affronted when he told him disagreeable truths; as also no man construed it into a mark of his vanity, when he spoke of his own performances with selfr satisfaction, so much was he respected on account of his veracity.

The Roman school will always revere him as the restorer of its pristine fame, for he was the first in his time t;o | throw off the burdensome bonds of certain rules which had been always consjdered as the fundamental maxims of the art; tnou^h they served no other purpose than to check the progress of men of talents. His example has banished the prejudice of mannering from the Roman school. All now drjtxv from the pure sources of nature, all are emulous to excel in the way pointed out to them by Raphael and the aucu-Mit Greeks for attaining to perfection. No servile imitation is now recommended. That every practitioner must choose for himself what he finds most striking and beautiful in die vast unlimited scenes of nature, is become u prime maxim in the art of painting, and it is highly probable that the return of the flourishing days of the Caracci is not far off.

This high character of Ratoni, which we have considerably abridged from the last edition of this dictionary, was taken from Boni’s Eloge in a German Journal, and although we have endeavoured to keep down the enthusiasm of our predecessor, yet perhaps even now the article is disproportioned to the merit of the object, and to our scale of lives. It is therefore necessary to subjoin Mr. Fuseli’s opinion, which seems moderated by taste and judgment. Mr. Fuseli says, that Batoni “was not a very learned artist, nor did he supply his want of knowledge by deep reflection. His works do not bear the appearance of an attentive study of the antique, or of the works of Raphael and the other great masters of Italy: but nature seemed to have destined him for a painter, and he followed her impulse. He was not wanting either in his delineation of character, in accuracy, or in pleasing representation; and if he had not a grand conception, he at least knew how to describe well what he had conceived. He would have been, in any age, reckoned a very estimable painter; at the time in which he lived, he certainly shone conspicuously. His name is known throughout Europe, and his works are every where in estimation. Men^s, who was a more learned man, was his rival; but, less favoured by nature, if he enjoyed a higher reputation, he owed it less perhaps to any real superiority, than to the commendations of Winkelman.1


Eloge by Boui. Pilkington’s Dict