Bologna 1685–Brescia 1768
A Seated Man, his Right Arm Raised
Black and white chalk, on grey-olive prepared paper
16 15/16 x 11 inches
429 x 278 mm
A particularly beautiful academy by Francesco Monti, taken from life, this powerful and perfectly preserved drawing was surely intended for the figure of the seated Christ blessing, presumably for one of the artist’s altarpieces, though no related painting has yet been identified. The drawing stands firmly in the Bolognese academic tradition, first established by the Carracci Academy at the end of the sixteenth century and still the predominant model throughout Europe in the eighteenth century, to study the human figure in all its poses from the living model. Apart from presenting an unusual pose, our drawing reveals Monti’s particular interest in the effects of lights and shade on the man’s torso. To enhance these effects he used white laid paper that was first carefully prepared on the recto with broad brush strokes in dark-grey wash as a mid-tone color against which to set off the strong white chalk highlights and dark black chalk contours. Monti’s approach is eminently painterly, and in some areas he stumped and rubbed the chalk into the paper to enhance the three-dimensionality of the figure as well as to better isolate the subject against the background. Highly idiosyncratic but typical of the artist is his method of outlining the figure with white chalk, but then elaborating it only partly, leaving the underdrawing visible. This underdrawing betrays numerous pentimenti, revealing Monti’s searching attempts at quickly defining the correct anatomy of the human body.
The highly painterly effect of this study suggests it was made relatively early in Monti’s career when he was strongly influenced by Venetian art. Several comparable Academies survive in the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, which preserves the largest holding of drawings by the artist, in the Uffizi, and in various other public and private collections.¹ The rich use of white chalk can also be found in highly finished composition drawings by Monti in the Royal Library, Windsor.² As a pupil of Sigismondo Caula (1637-1724) of Modena, who trained in Venice, and later of Giovan Gioseffo dal Sole of Bologna (1654-1719), Monti was strongly influenced by Venetian art – indeed he worked there in the 1720s - so much so that Ugo Ruggeri, author of the seminal monograph on the artist, once described him as a ‘falso veneziano’ (‘a faux Venetian’).³
Francesco Monti began his artistic training with the Venetian-trained painter Sigismondo Caula in Modena before moving to the Bolognese studio of Giovan Gioseffo Dal Sole, which he joined in 1703. The Venetian traits in Caula’s art would remain a component of Monti’s production throughout his long and prolific career. His first documented work, the Pentecost for the church of S. Spirito in Reggio Emilia (now in S. Prospero), dated 1713, already shows Monti’s aspiration to autonomous expressive modes. The 1720s were marked by important history painting commissions and in 1725 he was elected to a term as principe of the Accademia Clementina.⁴
By the mid-1720s Monti moved to Venice, where he contributed five canvases to a series of large allegorical paintings of imaginary tombs commemorating prominent British noblemen. Commissioned by the Irish entrepreneur Owen McSwiny in the late 1720s and 1730s, the project also involved Donato Creti (1671-1749), Sebastiano (1659-1734) and Marco Ricci (1676-1730), Giambattista Pittoni (1687-1767) and Piazzetta (1682-1754) among others.⁵ In the early 1730s he received several commissions for churches in and around Bologna, including the Immaculate Conception with SS. Filippo Neri and Barbara for the Oratorio dei Filippini, Bologna (now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale). The 1736 fresco decorations for Palazzo Martinengo, now lost, and those for the church of S. Maria della Pace secured Monti’s success in Brescia. Having settled there, he would spend the latter part of his career working on large-scale fresco commissions in Lombardy – primarily Brescia, Cremona and Bergamo – often in collaboration with the quadraturista Giovanni Zanardi (1700-1769). Monti is best known today as a highly accomplished draughtsman. His numerous black chalk figure studies and red chalk compositional drawings combine a strong emphasis on the assiduous observation of the human form, typical of the Bolognese academic tradition, with a distinctive lightness of touch, producing a rare “combination of elegance and spontaneity.”⁶
U. Ruggeri, Francesco Monti bolognese (1685-1768). Studio dell’opera pittorica e grafica, Bergamo, 1968, no. 357-58, 365-66, 372-74, 406, pls. 285-86, 291-95, 304. Several academies by Monti are in private collections, in England and Germany (for one of these, see fig. X), all executed in the same technique and with similar measurements as the present sheet; two other drawings, identified and catalogued by Donatella Biagi Maino and evidently from the same group, are in another private collection.
Ibid., cat. nos. 124-28, pls. 108-112; and idem, “Francesco Monti bolognese a Brescia,” in Critica d’arte, 16, 1969, no. 108, pp. 50-51, fig. 22.
U. Ruggeri, “Francesco Monti ‘falso veneziano’,” in Nicola Grassi e il Rococò europeo (proceedings of the conference, Comunità Montana della Carnia, 1982), Udine, 1984, pp. 239-53.
G. Zanotti, Storia dell’Accademia Clementina, Bologna, 1739, I, pp. 67-68, 71.
F. Haskell, Mecenati e pittori, Florence, 1963, pp. 439-40.
M. Cazort and C. Johnston, Bolognese Drawings in North American Collections 1500-1800, exhibition catalogue, Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, 1982, p. 134.