At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Stefano della Bella – printmaker

Artist sketched important events preserving them for posterity


Carlo Dolci's 1631 portrait of Stefano della Bella, which currently resides in the Pitti Palace
Carlo Dolci's 1631 portrait of Stefano della
Bella, which currently resides in the Pitti Palace
Stefano della Bella, who produced hundreds of sketches of court festivities held by the Medici, as well as visual records of important public occasions, died on this day in 1664 in Florence.

Della Bella was a draughtsman and printmaker known for his etchings of military and court scenes. He left more than 1000 prints and several thousand drawings, but only one known painting.

He was born into a family of artists in Florence in 1610 and was apprenticed to a goldsmith. However he went on to become an engraver and studied etching.

Thanks to the patronage of the Medici family, Della Bella was able to study for six years in Rome living in the Medici Palace in the Villa Borghese area.

Della Bella produced views of Rome, drawings of antiquities and sketches of crowded public occasions in a series of sketchbooks, many of which were later turned into prints.

He also made trips to Florence to record Medici court festivities and during this period his style developed from Mannerist to Baroque.

A scene in Rome typical of those drawn by Della Bella shows the Arch of Constantine
A scene in Rome typical of those drawn by Della
Bella shows the Arch of Constantine
Della Bella captured major events of his time, just like a photographer does today, and his prints have enabled people to see in detail the lavish festivities held by the Medici family and what daily life was like in Rome - and also in Paris - in the first half of the 17th century.

While in Rome, Della Bella created a series of six prints, which formed a long panel measuring 2.5 metres, showing the Polish ambassador’s ceremonial entry into Rome. He also created many intricate prints showing views of Rome as they were at the time.

In 1639 Della Bella went to Paris, where he adapted his style to suit French taste. In 1641, Cardinal Richelieu sent him to Arras to make drawings for prints recording the siege and taking of Arras by the Royal Army. Then, in 1664, Cardinal Mazarin commissioned him to create four sets of educational playing cards for the young Louis XIV.

Della Bella also created views of Paris, including a very large print of the Pont Neuf, looking south from the entrance from the Place Dauphine, with accurate depictions of the buildings on the banks of the Seine and including more than 400 distinct figures, such as beggars, gypsies, children and animals. During this period Della Bella also travelled to Holland, where he was profoundly influenced by Rembrandt.

Della Bella's detailed print showing the Pont Neuf in Paris
Della Bella's detailed print showing the Pont Neuf in Paris
On his return to Florence, Della Bella was granted a pension by the Grand Duke and was given the task of instructing his son, Cosimo III de' Medici, in drawing.

Della Bella continued to send plates to Paris publishers and is also known to have illustrated some of the discoveries of Galileo.

But he did little work after suffering a stroke in 1661 and he died three years later.

The Villa Medici, where Della Bella lived during his time working for the Medici family in Rome
The Villa Medici, where Della Bella lived during his
time working for the Medici family in Rome
Travel tip:

The Villa Medici in Rome, where Della Bella lived during his time in the capital, is on the Pincian Hill next to the Church of Trinità dei Monti. The villa was founded by Ferdinando I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, in 1576. It became the principal Medici property in Rome, intended to assert the family’s importance and their permanent presence in Rome.

Travel tip:


Della Bella would have regularly visited Palazzo Pitti to give the future Cosimo III de' Medici drawing lessons. The child was born in the palace in 1642, on the south side of the River Arno in Florence, a short distance from the Ponte Vecchio. Palazzo Pitti was originally the home of Luca Pitti, a Florentine banker. It was bought by the Medici family in 1549, after which it became the chief residence of the ruling family of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

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