Portrait of Giuseppe Ballati Nerli
Portrait of Giuseppe Ballati Nerli
Fondazione Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Siena, Italy
The painting depicts a young calm-looking man standing in a grey room with simple stucco decorations, looking directly at the observer.
He has short and straight brown hair and wide forehead. His eyes are dark and his soft beard is thick but well-kept.
The young man is wearing a dark suit, white shirt with a black silk bow and grey plaid vest decorated with a gold chain with a seal of carnelian. Over the suit the man is wearing a black lawyer’s robe.
His left hand is tucked in the vest while the right hand rests on the desk behind him. The walnut desk is decorated with moldings and 16th-century style carvings. On the desk there are two heavy leather books, volumes of Storia d’Italia, as written on the book with golden letters.
The man was long identified as count Scipione Bichi Borghesi, who worked as a lawyer, for the black robe he is wearing. Recent studies have shown that actually the man in the picture is Giuseppe of the marquis family Ballati Nerli, who was Mussini’s and Bichi Borghesi’s close friend. He died in October 1848 after having fought in Curtatone and Montanara and having been a prisoner of Austrian soldiers.
The painting was commissioned to Mussini by Giuseppe’s mother Maria Ballati Nerli, who wanted a painting of her recently died son, as Mussini wrote in his memoirs and in a letter to Giovanni Duprè in October 1849.
Cristiano Banti portrayed Giuseppe as Garibaldi’s volunteer in a watercolor painting in 1849 and Mussini made also another portrait of him, which confirm his identity in this painting.
Marquis Ballati Nerli never studied law so critics have interpreted the presence of the robe and books as a symbolic allusion to his efforts for the national causes. He was a patriot who sacrificed his life for the nation at young age.
The painting is signed and dated “LM 18/50 (1850). In fact, Mussini painted the work is Paris, based on his memories of his friend and his physical features. The design is clean and well composed. Warm light surrounds the figure which reminds the portraits of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, who was Mussini’s friend and whose works he admired and studied during his long stay in Paris.
The painting was placed in Marchioness Maria Ballati Nerli’s living room, as mentioned in her will in 1856. It was inherited by Count Scipione Bichi Borghesi after her death in 1860. Fondazione Monte dei Paschi di Siena bought the work in 2007.
Luigi Mussini was born in 1813 in Berlin. When he was only five years old his family moved to Florence, where Luigi studied music (his father was a composer) and drawing. In 1830 he enrolled to the Accademia di Belle Arti of Florence where he studied under Pietro Benvenuti and Giuseppe Bezzuoli. He won many awards and competitions with his mythological paintings (Telemachus in Calypso’s cave, 1834) as well as religious and biblical paintings (Conversion of St. Paul, 1834, Samuel and King David of Israel, 1836) which already showed the first signs of his purism. In 1840 he won a grant from the Accademia in Rome, where he stayed for four years in Villa Medici. There he met Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, who influenced a lot young Luigi.
In Rome Mussini studied the masterpieces of the 15th and 16th century. This was evident in his works of this period, such as La Musica Sacra (1841, Florence, Galleria Dell’Accademia) which was highly appreciated in Florence and linked to Perugino’s works.
In 1844 Mussini returned in Florence where he opened a studio at San Barnaba and began to paint his first independent works such as The Triumph of Truth (Milan, Accademia di Brera) which was immediately bought by Marquis Ala Ponzoni, who in that occasion invited the painter to Naples. Mussini stayed in Naples between 1845 and 1846. He returned to Florence and worked as a teacher in a school he founded in Via Santa Apollonia with Swiss painter Adolf con Sturler, who was also Ingres’ student during his period in Rome.
In 1848 he volunteered to fight with the revolutionaries, but only a year after, disappointed by the events, he traveled to Paris where he presented La Musica Sacra and the Triump of the Truth in the Salon of Paris in 1849. He received a medal for his works. Mussini met again Ingres and his friend Ala Pinzoni, who introduced him to the cultural circles of Paris and put him in contact with artists like Jean-Léon Gérôme and Auguste Gendron. He painted a copy of La Musica Sacra for the French Government, which is today in Rodez (Musée des Beaux-Arts Denys-Puech) and began to paint I Parentali di Platone (Bourg en Bresse, Musée de Brou).
After Francesco Nenci’s death in November 1851 Mussini returned to Italy to work as a director in the Istituto di Belle Arti di Siena, where he worked until his death.
From the 1860s’ Mussini received important assignments regarding the protection of the Italian artistic heritage. From 1860 he became a member of the council of fine arts (later Giunta Superiore di Belle Arti) and from 1867 he was in the advisory commission of fine arts of Siena and Grosseto. He was a director in numerous award committees in Siena. His undisputed authority also led him to supervise artistic restorations. In 1880 he was elected as a member of the city council of Siena.
Among his most important works are Eudorus and Cymodoce (1855, Florence, Galleria d’Arte Moderna of Palazzo PItti) Les Martyrs of René del Chateaubrieand; Mater Dolorosa (1856, Siena, Museo Civico di Siena) tempera on panel with golden background, inspired by the works of the 15th century, Decamerone Senese (1858) and the portrait of Vittorio Emanuele II (1860, Siena, Palazzo Pubblico). Other works to mention are L’Odalisca (1862, Milan, Accademia di Brera) influenced by the works of Ingres, Spartan Education (1869, Mountauban, Musée Ingres) and one of the few Mussini’s religious works representing St. Crescentius; an altarpiece for the San Filippo altar in the Siena cathedral (1868).
Mussini died in Siena in 1888.
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Monte dei Paschi di Siena Foundation was established on August 28, 1995 with the conferment of banking activity and it is the oldest bank in the world still operating. The headquarters is in Palazzo Sansedoni of Piazza del Campo, Siena, and the main mission is to carry out philanthropic activities in cultural, artistic and environmental sectors.
The foundation owns and preserves two collections: the collection of Artworks and Malandrini collection of photographs. Both collections can be found on digital version online. The artwork collection includes 57 pieces representing prestigious examples of Sienese art, some of which have been lost for centuries. A special committee of scholars and art historians was set up to identify the works of Sienese school between the 13th and 18th century. Among the artworks there are Segna di Bonaventura’s Madonna with Child Enthroned, St. Bartholomew, St. Ansanus and a Donor, Maestro dell’Osservanza’s Santa Lucia, Brescianino’s Madonna with Child and Little St. John, Ventura Salimbeni’s Santa Cecilia, Francesco Vanni’s Lamentation over the Dead Christ, Rutilio Manetti’s St. Jerome in Penitence and Bernardo Mei’s Holy Family with Magdalene.
The Malandri collection was named after the founder, photographer Ferruccio Malandrini, and it was established in 1975. The collection includes historical photographs from Siena territory, taken between 1853 and 1950. There are 135 units in the collection. The units consist of different themes, origins and technical and historical characteristics and in total they include 11,389 photographs.