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Benigno Bossi

(1727 Porto d’Arcisato - 1800 Parma)

Fisionomie possibili. Parte Prima ...in faciem permulta jocatus. Thirteen etchings. Approx. 9.3 x 12.4 cm. 1776. Le Blanc 129-140.

Benigno Bossi was initially taught by his father, Pietro Luigi Bossi, a stuccoist. In the early 1750s Benigno accompanied his father to Germany and underwent training there as a painter and stuccoist. After the death of his father in 1754 he was introduced to the art of engraving on the initiative of Anton Raphael Mengs, Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich and Charles Hutin in Dresden. Bossi returned to Italy at the outbreak of the Seven Years War in 1756, settling first in Milan and then in Parma, where he was appointed a professor at the Academy in 1766 and later worked as court painter to the house of Bourbon-Parma. Bossi is best known for his stucco works, however, of which there are outstanding examples in the Palazzo del Giordano and the Palazzo di Riserva in Parma, and for his extensive printed oeuvre.
Bossi published his series of Fisionomie in 1776. On the title page he introduces the etchings as a collection of possible physiognomies; these are exaggerated for humorous effect, however, as the sub-title with a quotation from Horace’s Satires makes clear. Hung on a knob beneath the inscription is a theatre mask, which is recognisable as such from the ribbon threaded through the eye holes. As a symbol of the theatre it refers here to the affinity between literary and artistic satire and heralds an entertaining presentation of grotesque figures. Prior to these portrait caricatures Bossi had already etched a collection of expressive but naturalistic character heads in the Raccolta di teste varie. On the first page of the Fisionomie a draughtsman, his face distorted with effort, is bent over a drawing board resting on a pile of books. Albrecht Dürer’s name is legible on one of the spines. Dürer’s studies of proportion and the ideal of beauty to which they gave rise serve both as a theoretical background and an aesthetic contrast to the alienated faces Bossi presents here, which match the tradition of grotesque heads and caricatures that has existed ever since the days of Leonardo and the Carracci brothers. The peculiarities of all the profile figures, which are humorously overstated by the artist, contrast starkly with the wonderfully delicate and extremely refined technical execution of the etchings. On offer here is the complete series of splendid prints, which have margins around the distinct platemark. Minor traces of handling, some sheets slightly foxed, otherwise in mint condition.

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