teodoro matteini
(1754 Pistoia – 1831 Venice)

„La Pronea / del / Commendatore Melchiorre Cesarotti / composta, delineata, ed incisa / da / Teodoro Matteini.“ Title page, 24 outline etchings, 8 white and 16 text sheets (4to) inserted in the binding. 41 x 55 cm (size of sheet). Milan, 1808.

This cycle of prints by Matteini is a remarkable example of the hero worship accorded to Napoleon Bonaparte by parts of the population in occupied Italy. The complete set is extremely rare: Nagler was only familiar with 19 of the prints. Their author, the painter and engraver Teodoro Matteini, was trained in Rome by leading masters of his time, such as Pompeo Batoni, Domenico Corvi and Anton Raphael Mengs, after which he practised his art in Florence, Milan and Bergamo. In 1807 he was appointed a professor at the Academy in Venice.

The 24 outline etchings in the series illustrate the poem Pronea by the writer and classicist Melchiore Cesarotti (1730 Padua – 1808), a propagandistic paean to Bonaparte celebrating the great man’s heroic deeds in impassioned terms. Deeply impressed by the Italian campaign (1796) and the subsequent proclamation of the Cisalpine and Ligurian Republics, Cesarotti had set him­-self up as a fiery advocate of the Bonapartist cause, for which he was personally decorated by Napoleon. These outline etchings, executed in a severely Neoclassicist idiom, whose stylization and clear linework are reminiscent of Flaxman, depict key episodes in Bonaparte’s career, in which he appears as a young hero of antiquity, with short curly hair, clad in a tunic or toga, or bearing the insignia of a Roman emperor. We see Bonaparte as the saviour of France, brooding over the fate of his country, as a victorious commander entering Milan, and on the banks of the Nile. There follow further momentous events, such as his appointment as First Consul of the French Republic, his crossing of the Alps in the footsteps of Hannibal, and his coronation as emperor in Paris on 2 December 1804. The cycle closes with the announcement of the alliance formed by the great European powers against Napoleon, an event destined – in the words of his overzealous apologist Cesarotti – to bring Bonaparte immortal glory. In reality this coalition sounded the knell of Napoleonic primacy in Europe.

Excellent, even impressions with full margins. This must be an early edition, as eight of the accompanying sheets provided for explanatory notes are still blank. Some of the prints are slightly foxed, with very minor defects; in a contemporary half-bound volume (bumped).