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A Burial Scene in an Antique Mausoleum. Pen and brown ink, brown wash, heightened with white, over pencil, on laid paper in the shape of a lunette. 39.2 x 56 cm. Ca. 1800. Watermark: Fleur-de-lis in a double circle crowned by letters PM, underneath with the name Fabriano (Italy, late 1790s).
Together with Vincenzo Camuccini, Felice Giani and Giuseppe Cades, the painter and etcher Luigi Ademollo ranks as one of the most individual representatives of Italian Neoclassicism. After attending the Milan Academy at an early age and spending some time in Florence, where he worked as a set designer, Ademollo went to Rome in 1785 in order to study the works of classical antiquity. There he met kindred spirits who, like himself, belonged to the artists’ association founded by Felice Giani, the Accademia dei Pensieri. In 1788, Ademollo settled in Florence, where he was admitted to the prestigious Accademia di Belle Arti and where he was to live and work until his death. Ademollo was an extraordinarily erudite master whose apparently unlimited artistic imagination was based on a profound knowledge of classical literature. He was very active in Tuscany where his output was highly fruitful, as is documented by numerous monumental fresco paintings with historical and allegorical themes as well as by decoration cycles for churches, palaces and public buildings in Florence, Siena and Arezzo. Ademollo also distinguished himself as an illustrator and etcher, producing an extensive body of graphical work that runs to more than four hundred etchings.
The present drawing is a particularly successful example of Ademollo’s draughtsmanship. The very detailed execution is unusual for the artist. Given the stylistic features of the drawing, which was probably conceived as a study for a wall painting, a dating of the work to around 1800 seems plausible. In a huge hall of columns with overarching coffered barrel vaulting, numerous protagonists have gathered around the corpse of a young woman who is about to be buried. On the right, muscular male figures are exerting all their strength to open the lid of a heavy stone sarcophagus, while two huge twisted columns provide a powerful vertical element separating the burial scene in the foreground from the architectural background. The dramatic spatial effects of the fantasy-like mausoleum architecture – above the triumphal arches of the ground floor we see arcades containing other sarcophagi – reveal Ademollo’s talent as a set designer. Piranesi may also have influenced his style. Ademollo had a marked predilection for crowd scenes: he preferred multi-figure, dynamic and elaborate compositions which gave him the opportunity to depict a large number of different physical movements and emotions. In the foreground a priest or augur raises his right hand to heaven in supplication. Young women in antique garments, who are presented in a great variety of poses, give vent to their grief or illuminate the corpse with their torches. The flickering light effectively brings out the chiaroscuro of the drapes, the plasticity of the muscular male bodies and the pallor of the dead young woman, who is crowned with a wreath and wrapped in a gleaming white garment. It is typical of Ademollo that, as an artist of exceptional literary erudition, he liked to choose lesser known themes from classical antiquity. Hence the iconography of this picture cannot be definitively established so far. It may even be a fantasy theme.