4 February 2021

Alessandro Magnasco - painter

Artist known for eerie scenes and lifelike figures

Magnasco's self-portrait, which he painted as a young man
Magnasco's self-portrait, which he
painted as a young man
The painter Alessandro Magnasco, who became famous for populating eerie landscapes with exaggeratedly realistic figures to illustrate the darker sides of society in his lifetime, was born on this day in 1667 in Genoa.

He specialised in wild and gloomy landscapes and interiors, often crowded with figures such as bandits and beggars, sometimes soldiers, monks or nuns in chaotic scenes, and acquired a substantial following.

His work was especially popular with wealthy families in Milan and Florence, where he worked primarily, and regular lucrative commissions enabled him to become wealthy himself.

Magnasco’s father, Stefano, was a modestly successful painter in Genoa and it is likely Alessandro would have remained in the Ligurian city had his father not died suddenly when he was only three years old.  Instead, when he was old enough, he was sent to Milan in the hope that he would learn about commerce and forge a career as a businessman.

However, Magnasco inherited his father’s love of painting and realised there were opportunities to pursue his passion in Milan, persuading his patron to pay his expenses while he took up an apprenticeship with Filippo Abbiati, a prominent painter of the mannerist school.

By the 1690s, Magnasco had established himself as a portrait painter, apparently going under the name Lissandrino. Within only a few years, though, he was producing the kind of work for which he would become much better known. In fact, his first signed work, Meeting of Quakers (1695) depicted one of the scenes from contemporary life that gained him so many fans.

Meeting of Quakers (1695) was typical of the Magnasco works depicting real-life scenes
Meeting of Quakers (1695) was typical of the
Magnasco works depicting real-life scenes
Set against the backcloth of a dark, dingy room, the painting shows a large audience listening to a speaker, many of the individual figures set in a pose that is realistic in an accentuated way.

In subsequent works, Magnasco would depict soldiers in barracks, worshippers squeezed into small churches, robbers holding clandestine meetings in the shadow of ancient ruins, or chained prisoners in overcrowded jails.  Sometimes, he would paint scenes of natural catastrophes, such as The Exorcism of the Waves (1735), which shows a boat breaking up and its crew in the water as it is dashed against rocks by a violent storm.

Experts believe Magnasco to have been influenced by several other painters. In addition to Abbiati, they point to his Venetian contemporary Sebastiano Ricci, fellow Genovese Domenico Piola and Gregorio de Ferrari, and the Milanese painter il Morazzone.  Some have seen echoes of  the flamboyantly unorthodox Salvator Rosa's landscapes.

Two of the Venetian Guardi brothers - Gianantonio and Francesco - as well as Ricci’s nephew, Marco are among the painters who may have been influenced by Magnasco’s style

Magnasco's graphic Interrogations in Jail, painted between 1710 and 1720
Magnasco's graphic Interrogations in Jail, painted
between 1710 and 1720
Magnasco’s clients in Milan included Giovanni Francesco Arese, said to have owned at least 22 of his paintings, while in Florence in the early years of the 18th century he was favoured by the Medici family, notable Grand Duke Cosimo III and Grand Duke Giovanni Gastone Medici.  When he returned to Milan, his success continued, this time through a series of commissions from the city’s Austrian governor, Gerolamo di Colloredo. 

One city where he was unable to make a widely favourable impression, however, was his home city of Genoa, where his work was seen as too raw and unfinished, his lines too bold and stark compared with the traditional Genovese masters.

Stricken by tremors in his hands in his later years, which made it impossible for him to hold a brush, Magnasco died in Genoa in 1749 at the age of 82.

Tall apartment buildings cling to the hillside rising from Genoa's port and shipyards
Tall apartment buildings cling to the hillside
rising from Genoa's port and shipyards
Travel tip:

The port city of Genoa (Genova), the capital of the Liguria region where Magnasco was born and died, has a rich history as a powerful trading centre with considerable wealth built on its shipyards and steelworks, but also boasts many fine buildings, many of which have been restored to their original splendour.  The Doge's Palace, the 16th century Royal Palace and the Romanesque-Renaissance style San Lorenzo Cathedral are just three examples.  The area around the restored harbour area offers a maze of fascinating alleys and squares, enhanced recently by the work of Genoa architect Renzo Piano, and a landmark aquarium, the largest in Italy.

The Palazzo Rosso art gallery houses works by a host of famous names
The Palazzo Rosso art gallery houses
works by a host of famous names
Travel tip:

Genoa has a number of outstanding art galleries, of which the Museo Palazzo Rosso and the Museo Palazzo Bianco are two of the most important, both housed in grand palaces. The Palazzo Rosso, donated to the city by the Duchess of Galliera at the end of the 19th century, is home to works by the Venetian artists Tintoretto and Veronese as well as celebrated local artists and also Van Dyck, who had a close association with Genoa.  The Palazzo Bianco was built by the Grimaldi family and also presented to the city by the Duchess of Galliera. It is home to a vast collection of European paintings, dating from the 12th to the 17th centuries. 

Also on this day:

1676: The birth of Baroque composer Giacomo Facco

1875: The birth of patriot and irredentist Cesare Battisti

1892: The birth of playwright Ugo Betti

2014: The death of soldier and writer Eugenio Corti


Home


No comments:

Post a comment