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Benigno Bossi

(1727 Arcisate – 1797 Parma)

Attributed. Putti Playing in Front of a Satyr Herm. Pen in brown and black ink over pencil. 26.3 x 25.3 cm.

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.

The artist was an accomplished master etcher and aquatintist whose printed works illustrate his deft and spirited style. The present pen-and-ink drawing in a similar handling, showing a group of putti happily playing in front of a satyr herm is in all probability a closely related compositional study for one of Bossi’s etchings (see British Museum, ‘Various naked children and winged putti playing outdoors’, inv. no. 1877,0512.172). The addition made by the artist in the lower margin ‘Benigo Bossi inv. inc. (...) Parma 1771’ leaves no doubt that the composition was the artist’s own invention, which in turn points to the existence of one or more preparatory drawings. The piece on offer reveals the artist’s consummate and concise penwork. Vigorous parallel hatchings alternate with finer hatched patterns to produce a shimmering chiaroscuro effect. The deliberately graphic linework of the study with its dense network of carefully placed hatchings shows Bossi to be an accomplished etcher who was undoubtedly inspired by 17th century Italian predecessors. In iconographical terms the depiction is closely related to two etchings by Pietro Testa which deal with a similar subject (Bartsch 26, 28). In October 1839 the drawing was included in a major auction of works from the estate of Johan Conrad Spengler, director of the Royal Museum and the Art Gallery in Copenhagen, and recorded in the sales catalogue under number 68 as a work by Bossi. From the collections of Wilhelm Gottlieb Becker, 1753–1813 Dresden (Lugt 324), Johan Conrad Spengler (Lugt 1434) and Benjamin Wolff, 1790 Copenhagen – 1866 Engelholm (Lugt 420).

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