Francesco Bartoli (1745-1806)
Oil on canvas; 23 by 16 ½ in; 58 x 42 cm;
held in a period gilt wood frame
Provenance: Giancarlo Baroni (1926-2007), art dealer
Sold Pandolfina, Florence, Italy, 7-9th May, 1991 lot 313
Recorded in the archive Fondazione Federico Zeri, University of Bologna, Italy
This fascinating and strangely beguiling portrait of the Italian actor and writer Francesco Bartoli was completed in the 1770s by a painter working closely with Alessandro Longhi. Bartoli married the actress Theodora Ricci in 1769 and together, under the direction of Antonio Sacco, they became part of a successful theatrical company based in Venice. At that time Longhi was one of the most sought after portrait painters in the city and had a notable practice painting all manner of Venetian society, particularly the nobility and successful middle classes. His portraits are all depicted with meticulous care in the rendering of their facial features and clothes, and exhibit an innate tendency to emphasise aspects of the sitter’s character in a positive light. This gently flattering approach appealed to a society that wanted to feel good about itself and project a positive image to visitors, whether they be businessmen exploring Venice for mercantile opportunities or noblemen enjoying the pleasures of the city whilst on the “Grand Tour”. Thus the painter of this portrait of Bartoli has captured the aura of a man comfortable with his stage presence, and like Longhi created an air of confidence and character within the composition in a style that gently leans towards exaggerated form rather than pure realism.
Bartoli was born in Bologna and first directed amateur improvising groups and later minor professional companies before finally joining a major troupe that took him to Venice. He is best remembered now for his biographical dictionary published in 1782, Notizie istoriche de’ comici italiani which was the first serious attempt to document the lives and works of Italian actors from the commedia dell’arte in 1550 through to the late 18th century. He also wrote several volumes documenting the works of art in various churches, the volume published in 1776 including the only previously known portrait of him engraved after a drawing by unknown artist Bonaventura Benati.