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Pietro Benvenuti

(1769 Arezzo – 1844 Florence)

Achilles Drags Hector’s Corpse around the Walls of Troy. Pen and brush drawing in brown ink, brown and grey wash, on firm wove paper, squared with red chalk. 38.7 x 55.5 cm.

Together with Vincenzo Camuccini, Pietro Benvenuti is one of the outstanding representatives of Italian Neoclassicism. He had a precocious talent, and his work reflects a very wide range of stylistic impulses. By the time he was twelve Benvenuti was studying at the Academy in Florence, where his teachers in­cluded Giuseppe Piattoli. Upon completing his apprenticeship in 1792 Benvenuti went to Rome, where he made a thorough study of the works of Raphael and Michelangelo and was influenced by the art of Asmus Jakob Carstens and the Neoclassical style of Jaques Louis David.

Benvenuti took an intensive part in the city’s artistic life: he was a regular guest at the salon of Angelika Kauffmann, main­tained close friendly relations with Vincenzo Camuccini and Antonio Canova, and had contacts with foreign artists working in Rome, such as Bertel Thorvaldsen and Christian Gottlieb Schick. In his Roman years Benvenuti also belonged to the Accademia dei Pensieri, an association of young artists founded by Felice Giani, which met at Giani’s home in the Via di Ripetta and whose other members included Camuccini, Luigi Sabatelli and Giuseppe Bossi. It amounted to a kind of private drawing aca­demy in which up-and-coming talents honed their skills in artistic competition among themselves on themes chosen by Giani. Benvenuti soon achieved fame and fortune, as can be seen from his impressive number of public commissions. In 1803 the artist was appointed professor of painting at the Florence Academy and became its director in 1807. In this capacity he helped Neoclassicist painting achieve a breakthrough in Flo­rence and made his preferred academic artistic ideal the dominant style. After Napoleon appointed his sister, Elisa Baciocchi-Bonaparte, Grand Duchess of Tuscany in 1809, Benvenuti became court painter in Florence for a few years.

Benvenuti was a prolific draughtsman who produced numerous preliminary studies for the compositions of his paintings and frescoes. Most of these studies are pencil or chalk drawings done in a clear linear style. Works such as the present large study sheet are rarer. The artist has executed it with pen and brush and, as the squaring in red chalk makes clear, he probably used it as an immediate design for a later fresco or a monumental painting. It depicts the dramatic finale of the story recounted in the Iliad of the death of Hector, the eldest son of the Trojan king Priam, who is killed in the battle outside the gates of his native city thanks to Achilles’ cunning and is subsequently dragged behind the latter’s chariot to the Greek ships.

Benvenuti’s unmistakeably expressive style is readily apparent in this detailed, fluent and masterfully washed drawing. An attribution of the drawing to the artist from Arezzo would appear justified in view of the pose Benvenuti has chosen for the figure of the dead Hector, which almost exactly matches that of the man lying on the ground in his painting The Good Samaritan (oil on canvas, 229 x 287.5 cm, Sotheby’s London, 27 April 2006, lot 117). Stylistically the work is also very similar to that of another pen-and-ink drawing depicting Acrisius and Danae which the artist made around 1800 (Florence, Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe, inv. no. 109611). Liletta Fornasari thinks this drawing in all probability arose during the time Ben­venuti spent at the Accademia dei Pensieri. The stylistic affinity with this drawing appears to confirm that the present study should be assigned to the same period and context. This theory is supported, moreover, by one of Giani’s drawings, which treats the motif of Hector and Achilles in a very similar manner and was also produced at this time (pen-and-ink drawing, circa 1800–1805, Museo di Roma, inv. no. MR 13510). Literature: Liletta Fornasari, Pietro Benvenuti, Florence 2004; Pittore imperiale: Pietro Benvenuti alla corte di Napoleone e dei Lorena, published by Liletta Fornasari and Carlo Sisi, Exhib. Cat. Florence, Galleria d’arte moderna e Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti, Livorno 2009.

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