Francesco Zuccarelli, R.A.

(Pitigliano, 1702 - Florence, 1788)

River landscape with figures

Tempera and watercolour on paper

244 x 409 cm (9.61 x 16.10 inches)

  • Reference Number: 0092
  • Price: p.o.a.

Francesco Zuccarelli was already in Rome in 1713, where he completed his formation under the painters Giovanni Marco Morandi and Pietro Nelli, both experts in figure drawing.
In 1728 he moved to Florence and attended the Accademia del Disegno while continuing painting thanks to an encounter with the expert collector Francesco Maria Gaburri, who introduced him to the artists who gravitated around the Medici family.
Historical subjects were Zuccarelli’s primary interest, following in the footsteps of great French Maestri of the 1600’s such as Claude Lorain and Nicolas Poussin.
The most significant experience for the artist’s formation was his long stay in Venice even though there is little biographical information about this period and most of it comes from documents that regard a trial that the artist underwent 1735. From the final deliberation we learn that he had been living in Venice since 1730. He quickly inserted himself in the artistic entourage of the area thanks to some important people that he knew and who helped him greatly, amongst which the Bergamese scholar Francesco Maria Tassi. It’s thanks to his writings that we learn that Zuccarelli used to sketch from real life and a Veduta di Bergamo, lost today, is also mentioned where the figures are described as “graziose e vaghe", adjectives that describe all of the figures that the artist did throughout his career.
Zuccarelli’s desire to become one of the best amongst the many Venetian artists did not take long to materialize, in fact, already in 1736 his name was on the list of the “Fraglia dei pittori" and just two years later his landscapes become part of the rich collection of the Marshal Schulenburg. The conquest of the German market was just the first step towards a remarkable international success that arrived in 1740, year in which he met Joseph Smith, considered the best collector of the day and a link between Italy and England. This River Landscape with Figures is the summa of the compositional and stylistic elements that define Zuccarelli’s style at the height of his artistic maturity. The artist specialized in pastoral subjects during his stay in Venice reaching a delicate, refined and elegant vision of reality made of peaceful scenes of densely fronded countryside. This type of landscape was elaborated by the Maestro from Pitigliano along the tranquil compositional lines proposed by Marco Ricci, and he often reproduced the microcosm that was the protagonist of his work. The Arcadian sentiment, his interest for color, the close attention paid to the climate with its vaporous clouds, all these are elements that allow us to include the artist amongst the “pittori veneziani" even though he was born in Tuscany.
Close attention paid to Nature was always an important element in Zuccarelli’s work, nevertheless, only towards 1760 did he begin to do an extraordinary series of views over the countryside characterised by an expressive immediacy, scenes with an ample viewpoint constructed mainly on several parallel levels.
This conception of pure landscape, genuine and unencumbered by architectonical elements, was a determining factor in the artist’s stay in England: after this experience his landscapes became wide open stages in which the figures are just dots that give a symbolic sense of daily life to the whole. The background becomes the protagonist, just as in this drawing, brimming with vegetation and enclosed by wooded fronds that are like the wings of a stage set. The “poetica del quotidiano" is at its best in this river landscape, which is re-proposed in an infinite quantity of variations even though each one is different from the others. We can find the same riverside houses, the same church with its bell tower, all elements that probably refer to some area in the Venetian countryside.
The element of greatest interest in the drawing is in the figures in the foreground, defined by soft yet descriptive brushstrokes. They are the same as others-although often in secular positions- done in other paintings by the Maestro. In fact, there is a surprising affinity between this drawing and another Landscape with Figures today in Pitigliano, where we can note two figurative “modules" that the artist preferred: the woman with a pitcher on her head and the seated shepherdess with a raised arm.


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