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Angelica and Medoro. Pen and black ink, grey wash. 35.3 x 26.9 cm. Inscribed in the lower margin: “da Pietro Novelli regalatomi dallo stesso”. Circa 1776.
This charming scene depicts a crucial occurrence in the epic poem The Frenzy of Orlando (Orlando furioso) by Ludovico Ariosto, which was first published in Ferrara in 1516. The romance between Angelica and Medoro has inspired writers and artists down the centuries ever since Ariosto’s poem appeared. As proof of his love the Saracen warrior Medoro etches his name and that of his exotic lover, Princess Angelica, into the bark of a tree, thereby incurring the wrath and jealousy of Orlando, Charlemagne’s nephew. A turbulent love affair subsequently takes its course.
Novelli has depicted this famous episode in a charming Rococo idiom. The drawing has been executed in the fluid and elegant style that is the artist’s hallmark. The couple are relaxing in a casual and carefree manner in a bower; a mischievous love god looks out impishly at the beholder. The finely graded washes produce soft, delicate transitions and bathe the scene in warm sunlight. The whole radiates an untrammelled joie de vivre and is imbued with a serene gracefulness.
In the early 1770s Novelli travelled to Bologna, where he studied the works of Carracci and Guido Reni. He spent the years from 1779 to 1782 in Rome, where his work was greatly influenced by the art of Raphael and Roman Classicism, represented in exemplary fashion by Anton Raphael Mengs and Pompeo Batoni. Novelli’s style is immediately recognisable in this drawing. The elegance of his figures points to his Venetian origins, while the refined, accomplished penwork reveals Novelli’s gifts as a printmaker and illustrator. In 1776 the artist provided the illustrations for a famous edition of Orlando furioso issued by the Venetian publisher, Antonio Zatta. From the collection of Charles Molinier (Lugt 2917) and an unidentified collection (Lugt 4254).