Rome 1826 - Rome 1901


The Roman painter Cesare Mariani was a pupil of Giovanni Silvagni at the Accademia di San Luca in Rome, and completed his training with an apprenticeship in the studio of Tommaso Minardi. He started working as an independent artist around 1850, and the following year one of his paintings was shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London. Although he began his career as a painter of genre scenes, with which he achieved some success, Mariani soon established a particular reputation as a fresco painter, often working on a large scale in churches, palaces and public buildings. Between 1857 and 1860 he painted frescoes for the newly-rebuilt church of San Paolo fuori le Mura in Rome, followed by a huge fresco cycle in another restored Roman church, Santa Maria in Monticelli, where he decorated the choir, vault and presbytery. In the 1860s Mariani painted frescoes in the Roman churches of San Lucia dei Gonfaloni, Santa Maria in Aquiro and San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, where he completed the decorations begun by his friend Cesare Fracassini, as well as in the church of the Madonna della Stella, near Montefalco. He also worked as a frescante in the Palazzo Sangermano in Arpino and the Castello at Rocca di Lanciano. Mariani’s activity as a painter of religious works continued throughout the 1870s and 1880s; a period when he was, for all intents and purposes, the official painter of Papal Rome and the Vatican. He provided paintings and frescoes for numerous churches in Rome, Lazio, Abruzzo and the Marches, where between 1884 and 1891 he completed a vast decorative cycle for the Duomo at Ascoli Piceno. Some of his work was sent even further afield, with an altarpiece and several paintings commissioned for the cathedral in Santiago in Chile. Although best known as a painter of religious subjects, Mariani also worked on a number of secular decorative schemes, notably painting allegorical subjects and portraits for the walls and ceiling of the Sala della Maggioranza of the Ministry of Finance in Rome, completed in 1879, and the Royal apartments of the Palazzo Quirinale. Of the Ministry of Finance frescoes, one contemporary English account noted that ‘When it is remembered how few are the living painters capable of using the supremely difficult medium of fresco for their works, we look with increased interest on this remarkable series of paintings, the productions of a thoughtful, enthusiastic, and able artist, whose mind is saturated with the great traditions of Italian art, and whose hand can execute his conceptions with rare power and skill. Had Cesare Mariani been a native of Munich, Paris, or London, instead of a civis Romanus, his name would probably be well known in Europe...The whole work, indeed, has been painted con amore, with the devotion, patience, and enthusiasm of a thorough artist.’ Mariani received numerous honours during his career, including being named a Knight of Saint Gregory the Great by Pope Pius IX in 1870, and, the following year, a Knight of the Order of the Crown of Italy. He trained numerous students, and rose to become principe of the Roman Accademia di San Luca between 1888 and 1890. (He also served as a drawing master to the Prince of Naples, the future King Victor Emmanuel III of Savoy.) One of his last significant projects was the fresco decoration of the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Terano, in the Abruzzo region, for which he also seems to have provided architectural drawings for the reconstruction of the church. From the middle of the 1890s onwards, however, he worked very little, and produced almost nothing in the few years before his death in 1901.