Bartolozzi, Francesco (DNB00)


BARTOLOZZI, FRANCESCO (1727–1815), engraver, was born in Florence in 1727. The date is given differently by different biographers, correctly by a very few, but Mr. Andrew Tuer has finally settled the point. His father, Gaetano Bartolozzi, was a Florentine gold-worker and silversmith. It is likely, therefore, that his son's name may be added to the long list of distinguished artists who have received their first and best lessons in the jeweller's shop. In his fifteenth year Bartolozzi became a student of the Florentine academy under the care of Ignazio Hugford, an historical painter of slight merit, who is also called Hugford Ferretti and Ugo Ferretti. In that school, we are told, Bartolozzi gave great attention to anatomical design and drawing from the life. ‘His countless drawings and sketches of the bones and muscles bore precious fruit in his excellent figure-drawing. He understood the forms in the manner in which only first-class artists have understood them, for he combined a knowledge of anatomy with an intelligent and observant experience of life.’ In those Florentine days Bartolozzi had Cipriani for a companion. ‘The two were constantly thrown together, and an acquaintance was formed which ripened into a lifelong friendship.’ He remained with Hugford three years, and then, after a short visit to Rome, was articled for a term of six years to Joseph Wagner, historical engraver at Venice. He had learned good drawing in Florence. Wagner, in no other respect a good master, was able to teach the mere craft of engraving, and in mastery of that craft the pupil soon outdid the master. Bartolozzi's earliest plates, indeed, are some copies from prints of Giacomo Frey, done at a time prior to his connection with Wagner; nevertheless it was under the latter that he began seriously to learn the business in the pursuit of which he made so great a name. At the end of his apprenticeship to Wagner he married a Venetian lady of good family, and removed, at the invitation of Cardinal Bottari, to Rome. In that city he worked much after Domenichino and other masters of the Italian school. He engraved five prints from the life of St. Vitus and portrait heads for a new edition of Vasari's ‘Lives of the Painters.’ Though doing so much, he does not seem to have been successful in Rome, and shortly returned to Venice, where, until 1764, he remained variously employed, and grew fast in favour and fame. In this year, in consequence of an offer from Mr. Dalton (librarian to George III), he came to England. Dalton was able to promise him an appointment as ‘engraver to the king,’ and engaged him besides on his own account at a salary of 300l. a year.

Leaving Mrs. Bartolozzi and his son Gaetano [q. v.] behind him, he thereupon went to England. He was then thirty-seven. The next forty years were spent in London. He established himself in lodgings with his old friend Cipriani in Warwick Street, Golden Square. In Dalton's employ he completed his collection of prints after Guercino's drawings, of which he had already done many in Italy. Twenty-three of this extensive series were from drawings in the king's possession. Perhaps there exists no finer testimony to Bartolozzi's genius than these etchings. The manner in which the plates were executed has been much discussed; but, apart from the fact that many prints not distinguishable from them in kind bear the inscription ‘Etched by Bartolozzi,’ any one tolerably familiar with the potentialities of the point and the proper quality of the etched line would know at a glance that they were etched. In finishing only the burin was used (Nagler, ed. 1833). Bartolozzi is commonly said to have been the inventor of what is called the ‘red-chalk manner of engraving.’ In reality it is a kind of soft-ground etching practised first in France by Demarteau in his reproductions of Boucher's drawings. (In this process the use of a roulette gave the effect of a soft line which modern etchers obtain with a pencil and tissue paper.) By Demarteau's pupils it was brought to England, and Bartolozzi at once became the most admired professor of the new art. The rage for these chalk-like red prints was greatly increased by the encouragement which Angelica Kauffman gave to workers in this kind. In consequence of this strong tide of fashion, line-engraving was driven almost from the market, as the numberless bad prints of that day in this dotted or stippled manner still testify. And the inefficiency habitually shown in this style of work explains why Sir Robert Strange thought himself justified in his unfortunate remark, that Bartolozzi, who employed it largely, was fit for nothing beyond engraving ‘benefit tickets.’ The enmity of Sir Robert Strange against Bartolozzi, who had succeeded him in the king's favour, is one of those well-known matters of history which lend perennial piquancy to the dull pages of artistic biography, and need not detain us. In casting this slight upon Bartolozzi, however, Sir Robert reckoned much without his host, for the former, with Latin versatility, was as well capable of good engraving in line as in any other manner. His ‘Clytie,’ said to be the immediate reply to this challenge, the print of the ‘Silence,’ after Annibale Caracci, the ‘Madonna del Sacco,’ after Andrea del Sarto, and many more that might be mentioned, put Bartolozzi in the first rank of engravers in this sort.

At the close of his engagement with Dalton Bartolozzi became his own master. For Alderman Boydell he did some of his finest work. In 1765 Bartolozzi joined the incorporated Society of Artists, and in 1769, on the foundation of the Royal Academy, he was made an original member. To this circumstance may be attributed the final rupture with Strange, an admirable artist and upright man, who, however, on this occasion showed temper in various foolish ways. It was characteristic of Bartolozzi to make no reply to these attacks. He was of an easy temper and very busy. From the time of his election as a member of the Royal Academy and afterwards there is little to relate. Mr. Andrew Tuer with loving care has contrived to pervade with some thin aroma as of the master the two appalling folios which tell inter alia of his life and works. But, indeed, there is little to tell. He worked early and late. He made money and spent it. He took snuff. He drank—some said more than enough; others that nature demanded his mild potations. He did not cease from work till he died, in 1815, at the age of eighty-eight. One result of his popularity was the formation of a large school, the members of which were proud to write themselves down his pupils. It was said that they got more from their master than ever he got from them. One injury at least they did him. Posterity will not distinguish between the rubbish of the pupil and the good work of the master. In illustration of the detrimental haste of his work towards the close of his life, it is sufficient to quote a passage from Redgrave: ‘Laborious, working early and late, he was generous and profuse in spending his gains, but he was without prudence, and made no provision for his latter days. His difficulties drove him to expedients to meet his expenses. The chalk manner afforded him facilities, and his studio became a mere manufactory of this class of art; plates were executed by many hands under his directions, which received only mere finishing touches by him, and his art was further vitiated and his talents wasted by the trifling class of works thus produced.’ Whether from want or from weariness is hardly to be told, but in 1802, moved perhaps by a promise of knighthood, he left this country to take charge of the National Academy at Lisbon, and there, on 7 March 1815, he died.

Mr. Tuer has collected probably all that at this date can be known about Bartolozzi; but the estimate that Mr. Tuer has formed of the engraver is, it need hardly be said, too favourable. If we speak of Bartolozzi as an engraver purely, it is hard to overpraise him; but it was of trifling things that he was the delightful and even exquisitely graceful designer. We must, however, remember in all estimation of him the taste of his time. The artists of the eighteenth century found inspiration in subjects of awful vapidity. It is on that account that we have from Bartolozzi's hand prints of ‘Cupid refusing Love to Desire,’ of ‘Venus recommending Hymen to Cupid,’ and many more not less sickly and absurd. But his work was never confined to these trifles. The hand that gave them what beauty they possess also gave our nation the prints after the Italian masters and Holbein, many masterpieces of line-engraving, and many harmless feasts of pleasure in fanciful slight designs. His enthusiastic and rather rhetorical biographer in Italy (Melchior Missirini) gives Bartolozzi a place among Italians which in England he may also claim: ‘Palladio was the architect of the Graces, Correggio the painter of the Graces, Metastasio the poet of the Graces, and Bartolozzi was their etcher.’

[Tibaldo's Biog. degli Ital. Illustri, vol. i. 1834; Nagler's Künstler-Lexicon, 1833; Rose's Biog. Dict. 1857; Biog. Universelle, 1843; Nouvelle Biog. Générale, 1853; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes; Gent. Mag. lvii. 876, lxxii. 1156, 1221, lxxv. 794, lxxviii. 1116, lxxx. (i.) 598, 662, lxxxiii. (i.) 179, lxxxviii. (i.) 377, (ii.) 11; Redgrave's Dict. of Eng. School; Tuer's Bartolozzi and his Works, 1882.]

E. R.