Francesco Zuccarelli, Italian 1702-1788
Oil on canvas, 104.1 x 110.5, sn#174
Provenance - with Bohler before 1930; acquired John Ringling

by Susan K. Johnson
April 6, 2000

Francesco Zuccarelli was born in Florence in 1702 at Pitigliano. His early training was Florentine and Roman. Little of this phase of his life is known, apart from conflicting statements of chroniclers. The evidence points to his learning landscape at Rome where the pro-classical manner survived from the 17 the century. He may well have gotten to know the work of Locatelli and other view-painters.

He went to Venice in about 1730 and was thoroughly influenced by Marco Ricci. Although it is likely that he was not a pupil of Ricci's , since Ricci was probably dead when Zuccarelli arrived on the scene. Zuccarelli practiced landscape painting showing "nature " as kept well in hand - his paintings were softer than Rosa's and did not show any of the seasonal effects that are evident in Marco Ricci's paintings (nephew of Sebastiano). There is no doubt that Zuccarellis felt the influence of Ricci; however, when had finished a painting, he had "created his own style of landscape" with "skies forever blue; trees forever green and the whole scene appeared bathed in a pinkish sweet mist."

Zuccarelli's reputation was considerable. The English, particularly, were his great admirers (although they later became his harshest critics.) He was preferred to Richard Wilson, the Welsh landscape artist, whom Zuccarelli had met in Venice in 1751. Wilson, is recorded as receiving "strong impressions of color and effect" from Zuccarelli's landscapes. It may have been Zuccarelli who influenced Wilson to take up landscape painting.

Consul Smith, the English consul in Venice, collected both Zuccarelli's and Marco Ricci landscapes. In fact, Wilson wrote home to England that Zuccarelli was a "famous painter in Venice." Perhaps Smith introduced Wilson to Zuccarelli. Smith employed Zuccarelli to produce landscapes and also work with Antonio Visentini (1688-1782) an architect and engraver. Visentini provided the classical English Palladian buildings and Zuccarelli painted the landscape. A sort of "caprice" - a witty blend to two worlds - which was growing more popular in Venice at that time. The two painters signed and dated the painting 1746.

The landscapes Zuccarelli painted were probably of nowhere in particular. They were just generalized and charming paintings of Italy; imagined as a country with picuresque but well-behaved peasants, delightful weather and pretty rural scenery - a blending of the pastoral with the classical ( very Italian). His paintings were very popular and he varied his work only by minor changes.

Zuccarelli did try his hand at some religious and mythological figures and scenes but these were not very successful. He did a small altarpiece in Chiari but it was said to have lacked taste in composition or proportion. He had some Italian patrons (Algarotti) who sent some of this work to Dresden. Francesco felt the need to travel and he chose England. No other Italian painter had such a success in 18th century London as Zuccarelli. He spent some 10 years or so in England, from 1752 and returned in 1765; he exhibited at the Royal Academy (of which he was a founder member) and at the Free Society and the Society of Artists. In England, Zuccarelli's pictures had considerable success; they remain in hundreds of English country houses, "those beautiful landscapes which must ever please."

In 1761 he was in Venice and became president of the Academy. He died at Florence in 1778.

Zuccarelli figures come alive in rural scenes. "It's as if he were to imagine episodes and suddenly touch them with life from his innermost being." Many of his paintings are at Windsor castle (Smith gave his collection to the monarchy). They are "couched in this dream-like and tender poetic vein; figures and landscapes are one, whole and indivisible."
Zuccarelli's feeling for nature has a contemplative aspect, concentrated less on the object than it's essential space-time relation.

In the 1750's his technique reached it's peak; his handling of paint was very responsive to mood, bright with regard to color, "thinly laid on and yet vibrantly effective." Tassi (1793) remarked that he paints "landscapes with the most charming figures and thus excels not only artists of modern times but rivals the great geniuses of the past; for no one previously knew how to combine the delights of a harmonious background with figures gracefully poised and represented in the most natural colours."

Zuccharelli's paintings are agreeable in manner, often adorned with pastoral touches. He had a love of "escapism" not uncommon during the 18th century. He provided a "charming impression" of a country many of his patrons did not know. A landscape by him would be a "decoration" set in a wall above a fireplace , not a depiction of an actual view of a season. Trees flank his compositions, and a river or road - in the Ringling collection, a river - gently leads the eye toward the pale hills of the distance, past picturesque pines and peasants, into a soft blue endless sky. No clouds darken his views, no rain or snow falls and the trees are never bare. His figures are indigenous to the scene, watering their cattle or posing with their flocks; in the painting at the Ringling it is evident that this is a group of people out for the day, enjoying the country and posing with their animals.

Zuccarelli's depictions of a gentle countryside could be the last evocation of the view of Greece and the classical period as a "deliberately golden-age place." His paintings represent a "fairyland" which was in tune with the pastoral poetry of the period. In a room of the Roccoco period, Zuccarelli's "sugary tones" plays an appropriate decorative part. This was a world where Lyrical Ballads had been published and republished. In Victorian times, which were far more puritan, distrust of the continent had already begun and Zuccarelli's paintings would be seen as "artificial" compared to the "sturdy morality" of the Victorians. The whole category of "landscape painting" was not as popular in Italy as it was with the English. Eventually, in Rome, landscape painting had merged into a "ruin-piece". In Venice, the landscape was merging with a category called "the view picture" - Algarotti's idea was to reconcile two opposites "nature and art." Cannaletto, who arrived in England in 1746, was not as popular as Zuccarelli, since his style had changed somewhat, to the "cappricio" advocated by Algoratti .

Zuccarelli's decorative landscapes appealed to the English nobility, returning home after they had completed their "grand tours." They represented the "idealized" Italy - and the never changing pastoral scene. This was the period made famous by Louis XIV - although England was governed more or less, by a monarchy and a parliament; it was the movement of the middle class and the "gentry" who aspired to be considered as "nobility" . Their sons and daughters did the "tour of the continent" alongside the offspring of the "nobility" and Italian landscapes like Zuccarelli's were treasured for their representation of the idyllic scenes one was supposed to encounter on one's travels.

It would be important to describe the pastoral idyllic scene - the trees that seem to float into the air - they don't appear to be anchored in the ground. I would include the figures at rest and the gentle appearance of the animals. The river is flowing gently, there does not appear to be a season for this painting - no natural forces are evident - the people are relaxed and give a content and happy feeling. The sky looks a little murky, but that may be due to an early effort to clean the painting; it was poorly done. I would further explain, that these were very popular landscapes in England in the early and mid-17th century. They could be found and still may be, in every English country home - "the pastoral, idyllic view of Italy" painted by Francesco Zuccarelli and brought or sent home probably by a young English offspring of an aristocrat while on "their grand tour" of Europe. Many of them can still be found today, still sitting over the fireplace. During a recent program "The Antique Roadshow" a person brought in a landscape and the appraiser said if it had been a Zuccarelli it would be worth $200,000 or more. The Curator of the Louvre , who visited the Ringling in 1996, said it was a perfect example of Zuccarelli's work. This type of idyllic landscape fits into the whole Rococco period we are looking at in this gallery and the next, with its' soft, ethereal views - no hard edges. This was the time of Louis XIV and Versailles - things were to be aesthetically pleasing .

Zuccarelli had tried his hand at religious and mythological works but was not too successful . His landscapes were very popular and Consul Smith, the English consul in Venice bought many of his works and also introduced him to Wilson, a Welsh artist and landscape painter. Wilson became a great admirer of Zuccarelli and eventually Zuccarelli went to England where he turned out a number of these "Italian and Venetian" landscapes - painted while he was still in England. He also became one of the founders of the Royal Academy and exhibited his works in England. The English admired Zuccarelli for his idealized landscapes - they fit into the Rococco period which was sweeping the continent - soft curves and flowing rivers - nature at it's best. There was a turning away from the religious and classical themes to the more gentle "enlightened" forces of nature.

Zuccarelli painted with Antonio Visentini in 1746. These were the beginnings of paintings and buildings called Palladium buildings. The paintings represented "nature and architecture " together. They were also part of the genre of "cappricio" art - a whimsy (caprice) bringing two forms of art together. Zuccarelli painted the landscape and Visentini the buildings - which were very popular in England (classical double columns).
Although Zuccarelli, had been head of the Academy in Venice before he died, many artists considered landscapes very low in the hierarchy of painting with historical painting first and foremost. Wilson, the Welsh landscape painter I mentioned previously, was not as popular as Zuccarelli, but much later, Wilson become more popular than Zuccarelli.

Many of Zuccarelli's landscapes are in Windsor Castle - when Consul Smith died he gave his collection to the English monarchy. If you recall, when we looked at Molla's paintings from the 17th century, his landscapes were darker with less diffused light and they represented religious subjects - biblical prophets ; here in the 18th century the landscape is idyllic, with a sweet pink hue and the subject is nature. Molla's were more representational of the high Renaissance period with their Baroque and religious themes - Zuccarelli's are in the Roccoco style - "idyllic and pastoral.