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Giuseppe Maria Mitelli

(1634–1718, Bologna)

Le ventiquattr’ hore dell’ humana felicità. Twenty-six etchings in a contemporary stiff board binding (spine replaced, slightly scuffed, minor abrasions). Folio. 1675. Bertarelli 394, 397–421.

The painter, draughtsman and printmaker, Giuseppe Maria Mitelli, was apprenticed to the cream of Bologna’s artists, being taught by no less than Guercino, Francesco Albani and Simone Cantarini. Nowadays Mitelli is best known for his etched genre scenes and caricatures, being regarded as one of the foremost representatives of moralising genre printmaking in 17th century Italy. His substantial printed oeuvre is distinguished by the originality of his invention and his biting satire.

The present very rare series can also be seen as a moralising, socially critical analysis of the human species and its numerous transgressions. In twenty-six excellently sketched scenes remarkable for their succinctness and wealth of detail Mitelli presents a broad range of people from very different walks of life who describe their characteristics and the advantages of their chosen way of life: an arrogant woman delights in her physical beauty; a greedy peasant gorges himself on wine and food; a gambler gets rich in a game of chance at the expense of others; and a king calls himself God on earth. Ultimately, however, all of these unrighteous figures are doomed to failure. In a conversation with Death, presented by the artist as an uncompromising adversary and moralist, they are each warned of their inappropriate behaviour and inevitable demise. Only in the last print does Death himself appear to remind them of the passage of human life, just like Saturn before him who, portrayed on the front cover as the personification of time, points to the moving hands of the clock. The witty lines and dialogues in the lower margin on all the prints stem from Mitelli’s elder brother, Padre Giovanni, a theologian and member of the Society of Jesus, who supplied various texts for Giuseppe’s compositions.

Mitelli’s fluid, accurate drawing style gives the depictions great spontaneity and verve. Moreover, his detailed pictures are of considerable significance for cultural history. The series originally included two additional prints, an antiporta and a dedication (Bertarelli 395–396). However, Achille Bertarelli noted in his catalogue of works that they were missing in almost all the extant series. A complete series is now in the collection of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio in Bologna.

Superb, crisp and contrasting impressions with wide margins. Minor ageing and handling marks, otherwise in excellent condition.

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