Pelagio Palagi

Pelagio Palagi

Pelagio Palagi (25 May 1775 – 6 March 1860) was an Italian painter, sculptor and interior decorator. Palagi was born in Bologna.

He began studying perspective, architecture, figurative painting, portraiture and the collecting of Carlo Filippo Aldrovandi at a very young age and continued his studies at the nude school of the Accademia Clementina in Bologna. His training and first works coincide with the arrival of Napoleon's troops in the city, thanks to the request of his mentor, member of the Senate and representative of the provisional government of Bologna, Palagi designed uniforms, medals and coats of arms with the symbols of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité for use in letters and postcards for the Directory.

Subsequently, the new emerging bourgeoisie entrusted him with the construction of the monumental tombs of Edoardo Pepoli (1801), Girolamo Bolognini Amorini (1803) and Luigi Sampieri (1804) at the Certosa di Bologna. In 1805 he also decorated the interiors of the residences of the Cospi, Aldini and Gozzadini families.

Pelagio Palagi in Rome

He moved to Rome in 1806 to complete his studies at the Accademia di San Luca, where he may have been a pupil of Vincenzo Camuccini. This is not confirmed by all the writings of the time, but the Roman painter's historicism undoubtedly had an influence on Palagi's style.

This influence is present in the portraits of the Bolognese painter, in which he demonstrates a careful analysis of the features of the models, as well as in his historical paintings and landscapes, which lead Palagi to conduct careful research on ancient history and the study of nature.

Examples of this elaboration and research are Portrait of Giuseppe Guizzardi in ancient costume (1807), Marriage of Cupid and Psyche (1808), Mario a Minturno (1809–1810), Ila and the nymphs (1810–1811), and above all the major works from the Topographical Cabinet of the Quirinale Palace (1811–1813) and the Teseo Gallery in the Torlonia Palace (1813–1815).

From 1813 Palagi was inspector of the Italian Academy and had the task of following the activity of the young retired artists of the Academy of the Kingdom of Italy in Rome. Together with Antonio Canova, president of the Academy, the artist was able to bring together the most representative young artists of Italian Neoclassicism, from Felice Giani to Gaspare Landi, in addition to the aforementioned Camuccini. The Roman experience helped Palagi to deepen his interest in archeology and collecting, which he had already developed during his youth in Bologna.

Palaces in Milan

In 1815, after a brief stay in Bologna, the artist moved to Milan, where he opened a private school in open competition with the Brera Academy, which never guaranteed him a teaching position. In the Lombard capital, the private clientele, larger and more stimulating than the Roman one, led him to dedicate himself to portraiture, especially of Giuseppe Bossi and Andrea Appiani, the public commissions established him as a portraitist of the protagonists of the Restoration.

Some works between the 1810s and 1820s are some of his portraits including those of Count Colonel Francesco Arese Lucini in the study, Luigi Archinto, Francesco I of Austria (all painted in 1817), Major Pietro Lattuada (1822 ), Cristina Archinto Trivulzio (1824) and the dancer Carlotta Chabert as Diana (1828–1830).

The meeting with Francesco Hayez, a leading artist of Lombard Romanticism, led Palagi to search for a compromise between historical-romantic painting and classicist training. The fruit of this research are Gian Galeazzo Sforza visited in Pavia by Charles VIII, Gustavus Adolf King of Sweden who makes the States General swear loyalty to his daughter Cristina, Sixtus V does not recognize the family and The defense of Matteo Visconti, all exhibited at the Bera. between 1821 and 1830 and Rape of the Sabine Women (1823–1825).

By the end of the decade Palagi obtained the commission for the architectural, decorative and sculptural intervention of Palazzo Arese Lucini and Villa Tittoni Traversi.

Newton discovers the refraction of light (1827)
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Newton discovers the refraction of light (1827)

After the previous Neoclassicism this painting demonstrates a change in Palagi's style. The painting reveals the emergence of a romantic and narrative undertone. Newton's discovery is presented like a scene from a play. The child's soap bubbles stop the scientist in his tracks as he makes the spontaneous discovery. The painting can be seen as both a genre painting and a history painting and also shows Palagi's penchant for psychological interpretation, a preference that was shared generally by Italian painters in later years.

Pelagio Palagi in Turin

His fame as an architect, interior decorator, sculptor and furniture designer, as well as a painter, reached the court of Savoy, and in 1832 King Charles Albert appointed him head of the expansion project of Racconigi Castle. Palagi moved to Turin after having obtained the position of manager of the pictorial and decorative restoration project of the Pollenzo Castle and the modernization project of the Royal Palace of Turin in 1834. In the same year he was awarded the Chair of Decoration (Cattedra di Ornato) of the Albertina Academy.

He died in Turin in 1860.

A few days before his death, Palagi wrote a will in which the Municipality of Bologna was named heir to all his antiques and works of art, medals, library, archive and drawings. The library, archive and drawings are preserved at the Archiginnasio municipal library, the objects of its collections are located at the Civic Archaeological Museum and the Medieval Civic Museum of the city.

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