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.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Pietro Novelli – painter and architect

Sicilian great who was killed in Palermo riot

Novelli's Annunciation, which he painted in the church of Santissima Annunziata
Novelli's Annunciation, which he painted
in the church of Santissima Annunziata
Pietro Novelli, recognised as the most important artist in 17th century Sicily, was born on this day in 1603 in Monreale, a town about 10km (6 miles) from Palermo.

A prolific painter, his works can be seen in many churches ad galleries in Sicily, in particular in Palermo.

There are good examples of his work outside the city, too, for example at Piana degli Albanesi, about 30km (19 miles) from Palermo, where he painted a fresco cycle in the cathedral of San Demetrio Megalomartire and another fresco, entitled Annunciation, in the church of Santissima Annunziata.

At his peak, wealthy and aristocratic members of Sicilian society, as well as monasteries and churches, competed to be in possession of a Novelli work.

His father, also called Pietro, was a respected artist who also worked with mosaics and Pietro initially worked in his father’s workshop in Monreale.

A great student of art who travelled extensively, among his major influences were Caravaggio, whose work in Sicily he studied, particularly his Adoration of the Shepherds, which was commissioned for the Capuchin Franciscans and was painted in Messina for the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli.

He was also influenced by Anthony Van Dyck, who had been present in Sicily in 1624, and whose altarpiece, the Madonna of the Rosary in the Oratory of the Rosario di San Domenico in Palermo, persuaded him to lighten his palate, which gave his subsequent works elegance and sweetness.

Novelli's Immaculate Conception is at the Civic Museum in Termini Imerese
Novelli's Immaculate Conception is at
the Civic Museum in Termini Imerese
Novelli’s travels took him to Rome, where he was particularly receptive to Bolognese classicism and neo-Venetian Roman painting, and to Naples, where he was introduced to the work of Caracciolo, Stanzione and Ribera, and studied the classicising naturalism of Andrea Vaccaro.

He incorporated the chiaroscuro of Ribera into his own style, as can be seen from his two canvases about St Benedict in the abbey of San Martino alle Scale in Mondovi.

In addition to his paintings, he drew up plans for fortifications, designed jewellery and stage scenery for the theatre and turned his architectural hand to a number of buildings, notably the presbytery and apse in the cathedral at Piana degli Albanesi.

He also served as the engineer and architect of the Senate of Palermo and was made engineer of the Kingdom on the appointment of the Viceroy Count of Cabrera, for whose entry to Palermo he realized the triumphal arch in 1641.

Novelli was killed during the riots against the viceroys in Palermo in 1647 and was buried in the cemetery of the Friars in San Domenico.

Around the world, there are works by Novelli on display, among other places, at the Metropolitan Musuem of Art in New York, the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and the Prado in Madrid.

The Norman cathedral in Monreale
The Norman cathedral in Monreale
Travel tip:

The town of Monreale is located on the slope of Monte Caputo, overlooking a valley known as La Conca d'oro (the Golden Shell), which produces and exports orange, olive and almond trees. The town is famous for its cathedral, which is regarded as one of the finest examples of Norman architecture anywhere in the world, built there by William II following the Norman conquest of 1072, and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Oratory of the Rosaria del San Domenico in Palermo
The Oratory of the Rosaria del San
Domenico in Palermo
Travel tip:

The Oratory of the Rosaria del San Domenico, where there are a number of works by Novelli in addition to the Van Dyck altarpiece, is situated in Via dei Bambinai in the La Loggia district of Palermo, near the historic Vucciria marketplace.

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