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Pietro Benvenuti

(1769 Arezzo – 1844 Florence)

Nude Study of an Ancient Warrior with Left Arm Raised and Right Arm Resting on a Boulder. Pastel. 63 x 46.2 cm. Circa 1817–29.

Together with Vincenzo Camuccini, Pietro Benvenuti is one of the outstanding representatives of Italian Neoclassicism. He had a precocious talent, and his work refl ects 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 infl uenced by the art of Asmus Jakob Carstens and the Neoclassical style of Jacques 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.

Among Benvenuti’s most important Florence commissions are the frescoes for the Hall of Hercules in the Palazzo Pitti, which the artist did between 1817 and 1829 for Grand Duke Ferdinand III of Habsburg-Lorraine. These monumental paintings are executed in an academic idiom that combines borrowings from Raphael and the Carracci school with stylistic elements of Davidian Neoclassicism. 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. On the other hand, works in colour like the present pastel, which probably arose in connection with the decorations for the Palazzo Pitti, are very rare and reveal a much livelier, less eclectic aspect of his art. Benvenuti has modelled the anatomy of this naked warrior accurately and dynamically. The raised left arm covers the head of the man, who wears an ancient ornamental helmet surmounted by an eagle. The lustre of the surface treatment and the warm, soft light give the portrayal an almost Baroque thrust. Benvenuti’s fluid, tonal drawing style is reminiscent of the fi gure studies of Gaetano Gandolfi , which shows that he also owed much to the Bolognese Classicist tradition.

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