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Pietro Antonio Novelli

(1729–1804, Venice)

Saints Jerome and Nicholas. Pen and brown ink, grey and brown wash, lightly squared off with black chalk. 41.4 x 27.6 cm.

The Venetian-born painter and draughtsman Pietro Antonio Novelli received his initial training from Jacopo Amigoni (1682–1752). In 1768 he became a member of the Accademia in Venice. In the early 1770s Novelli travelled to Bologna, where he studied the works of Carraci and Reni. The artist spent the years from 1779 to 1782 in Rome, where his work was strongly influenced by the art of Raphael and the Roman Classicism eminently typified by Anton Raphael Mengs (1728–1779). Although Novelli regarded himself primarily as a painter of historical scenes, he did create an extensive corpus of drawings and executed numerous altarpieces and decorative frescoes for patrons in Venice, Bologna, Udine, Padua and Rome.

Despite certain discrepancies in the composition, the present drawing may be seen in association with a Novelli altarpiece devoted to the same subject that was made in 1791 for an altar in Udine Cathedral consecrated to Saints Nicholas and Jerome. Sometime between 1846 and 1847 the altar was reconsecrated to the Madonna della Provvidenza and Novelli’s painting was removed. According to Carlo Someda de Marco’s book on Udine Cathedral, the altarpiece in question was preserved in the sacristy as of 1970 (see C. Someda de Marco, Il Duomo di Udine, Udine, 1970, p. 409). The connection between our drawing and the altarpiece is confirmed by the fact that the dimensions of our print are proportionate to those of the painting. The width in Venetian feet as given on the drawing corresponds exactly with the width of the painting. The fact that the painting is about 60 cm higher than the dimension given on the drawing can be explained by the fact that the composition was extended at the bottom by the addition of a painted cartouche. It is probable that the present drawing was intended as a detailed preliminary study for the finished altarpiece of Udine. This is a late work by Novelli and the drawing style of the artist is correspondingly fluid and apparently effortless. The strong chiaroscuro contrasts and very freely applied washes give the sheet a striking appearance.

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