Pietro Antonio NOVELLI
(Venice 1729 - Venice 1804)
Inscribed David. in black ink at the lower left.
273 x 195 mm. (10 3/4 x 7 5/8 in.)
The inscription ‘David’ at the lower left of this sheet appears to be in the same black ink as that used in the drawing itself. This suggests the intriguing possibility that this drawing, and by extension others of this group, may be the work of Novelli’s younger contemporary, the Genoese artist Giovanni David (1743-1790). Certainly, the draughtsmanship of this group is somewhat looser and more painterly than in other drawings by Novelli, which has been explained by the suggestion that the drawings date to an early phase in his career. Nevertheless, it is possible to detect a Genoese flavour in these studies that suggests that they be the work of a different artist altogether. The fact that the inscription on the present sheet seems to resemble a signature found on an autograph drawing by Giovanni David in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, depicting a standing woman and dated 1778, further argues that the attribution of this group of drawings to Novelli may perhaps need to be reconsidered.
Much of our knowledge of the life and career of Pietro Antonio Novelli comes from the artist’s memoirs, published posthumously in Padua in 1834. He was trained in the studio of Giambattista Pittoni, and also came under the influence of Gaspare Diziani and Francesco Guardi. His first documented works are two paintings for the church of Santa Fosca in Venice, completed in 1759 and showing the influence of Jacopo Amigoni, and illustrations for an edition of Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata, published in 1760. Novelli also designed several plates for the complete editions of Carlo Goldoni’s Commedie, published in 1761 and 1788.
In 1768 Novelli was accepted as a member of the Accademia in Venice, for which he painted an Allegory of the Arts. He painted decorative frescoes in several Venetian homes, including the Corniani-Tivan, Mangilli, Mocenigo and Sangiatoffetti palaces, and also painted altarpieces and decorative frescoes throughout Northern Italy; in Bologna, Udine, Padua and elsewhere. Among his patrons was Catherine II, Empress of Russia, by whom he was commissioned in 1772 to paint an easel picture as a pendant to one by Pompeo Batoni. By 1779 Novelli had settled in Rome, where he worked for most of the next twenty years. Among his significant Roman commissions was a ceiling painting of Cupid and Psyche for a room in the Villa Borghese.
Novelli is perhaps best known today for his drawings. He was an inventive and versatile draughtsman, as one contemporary source noted, ‘The drawings and painted works by Novelli showed not just a profound knowledge, but also a supreme degree of fantasy, and I myself saw him change in ten and more ways the same subject.’ His many and varied drawings - in both pen and ink and watercolour and, more rarely, red chalk - included studies for paintings and altarpieces, as well as a significant number of designs for book illustrations, prints and frontispieces. Large groups of Novelli’s lively and colourful drawings are today in the Museo Correr in Venice, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York.
P. & D. Colnaghi, London, in 1995