Self-portrait of the artist, bust-length, in a green jacket and cap
Inscribed on the reverse: F. Scaramuzza / dipinse se stesse / nel 1845 / in memoria ed affetto all’amore / …suo Zio VINCZO / PRINI, che politti / che vessazioni esile / …in Francia… / …ora di 72 anni
Oil on canvas, unlined
25.5 x 19 cm (10 x 7 ½ in.)
Vicenzo Prini, France, by 1845;
Private Collection, Paris.
As the now faded and only partly legible inscription on the reverse helpfully tells us, this lively little self-portrait was painted by Francesco Scaramuzza in 1845 and was sent by him to Vincenzo Prini, his 72 year uncle who had been exiled to France for unknown political reasons. This trans-Alpine journey no doubt explains in part the portrait’s diminutive size. Wearing the type of tasselled-cap favoured by artists, Scaramuzza animatedly looks out at the viewer, his uncle, with a raised eyebrow and a smile forming on his lips, sharing a moment of levity with Vincenzo, despite the distance which separated them. Or perhaps the reality is more prosaic, and this is merely the result of Scaramuzza scrutinising his own features in the mirror, as he puts his likeness onto the canvas.
Fig. 1,Francesco Scaramuzza, Self-portrait,
oil on canvas,40 x 33 cm, Perizzi Collection,
Painted when the artist was forty-two, this self-portrait fits in with two earlier bust-length iterations, dating from 1821 and 1828 (figs. 1 and 2), when Scaramuzza was eighteen and twenty-five respectively. We can therefore track his development from late teenager to middle age. In the intervening period, Scaramuzza gains a beard and cuts his bouffant hair, though is otherwise quite unchanged physically, and furthermore retains the sense of dynamic energy and youthfulness inherent in the early two works coupled with perhaps an even greater joie de vivre. An element of self-deprecation is also detectable, a trait which is very clear in a pen and ink self-portrait of 1837 (fig. 3), where the artist has inscribed under his melancholy image ‘ho moglie, ho tre figli e non ho un soldo!!!’ (I have a wife, I have three children and I don’t have a penny!!!).
Fig. 2, Francesco Scaramuzza, Self-portrait,
oil on canvas,47 x 39 cm, Perizzi Collection, Parma
By the time of our portrait, Scaramuzza was a well-established and much-favoured painter. Born in Sissa, he had graduated from the Academia of Parma in 1826, subsequent to which he spent three years on a scholarship in Rome. Returning to Parma, he gained the patronage of Napoleon’s second wife, the Duchess Marie Louise, for whom he painted several altarpieces, and received commissions for numerous frescoes too. Scaramuzza’s lifelong obsession and dedication to Dante found its spark in 1836, when the artist displayed to the public the now-lost Death of Ugolino. The acclamation it received encouraged Scaramuzza to focus his efforts almost exclusively on the Tuscan poet from then onwards, frescoing the Biblioteca Palatina with Dante scenes between 1840 and 1857. His most important project, and the one with which his name is most associated, was the illustration of a new edition of the Divine Comedy. Finally completing his task in 1876 after many years of toil and self-doubt, the result was 243 large pen drawings which many of his Italian contemporaries considered to be equal to the Dante illustrations of his great French rival, Gustave Doré, finished in 1868. Scaramuzza’s own self-identification with this monumental project is clear in a self-portrait of approximately the same date as ours, where, standing at the entrance to his studio, the artist holds an album on whose cover is inscribed ‘Immagini della Divina Commedia’.
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