Giovanni Battista Cipriani RA (1727 - 1785)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

A Founder Member of the Royal Academy of Arts, Giovanni Battista Cipriani was an Italian-born artist who designed the interior of the Academy’s first home at Somerset House.

Cipriani was born in 1727 in Florence. He began his artistic training with the Anglo-Florentine artist Ignazio Hugford, who also taught his compatriot and future fellow Royal Academician Francesco Bartolozzi. In 1750 Cipriani moved to Rome, where he met the architect William Chambers and sculptor Joseph Wilton. He travelled with them to England in 1755, where he lived for the rest of his life. Cipriani quickly established himself as a teacher of drawing and painting at the Duke of Richmond’s academy at Whitehall, and as a member of the St. Martin’s Lane Academy. Four years after arriving, he married Ann Booker, confirming his adoption of England as his new home. He retained a close friendship with Chambers and often collaborated with him. In 1762, Chambers and Cipriani worked together on a Gold State Coach for George III, with Cipriani contributing painted panels to a design by Chambers. The coach has been used for the coronation of every British monarch since George IV.

In 1768 he was nominated by the King as one of the Founder Members of the Royal Academy. Cipriani’s contributions to the fledgling Academy included designing the ornate Diploma, engraved by Bartolozzi, that is still awarded to new Academicians today as their “Letter of Admission”. In collaboration with Edward Penny RA, Cipriani also designed the gold medals awarded annually to the best students at the RA Schools. For these efforts he was awarded a silver cup by his fellow Academicians in 1769, as “an acknowledgment for the assistance the Academy has received from his great abilities in his profession”.

Cipriani also played a central role in the Royal Academy Schools, teaching life classes to early students. Although reportedly popular with pupils, he clashed with George Michael Moser, then the Keeper of the RA Schools, in 1775. The cause of the dispute is not recorded, but led to a Council resolution the same year stating that teachers had sole charge of their own classes and there should be no external interference, even from the Keeper.

His talent as a designer found expression in various forms. He collaborated with Angelica Kauffmann and Nathaniel Dance on sets for productions at Covent Garden, as well as the redecoration of the theatre itself. The paintings he exhibited were mostly of subjects from ancient history, and he exhibited at the RA from 1769 to 1779.

Cipriani worked with Chambers on the designs for the Royal Academy’s first official home at Somerset House, painting ceiling panels for the library. Among his sculptural designs was one for a statue of King George III, for the courtyard at Somerset House, executed by John Bacon in 1789. Cipriani died in 1785. A book of his sketches, engraved by Bartolozzi, was published posthumously as Cipriani’s Rudiments of Drawing, continuing his influence in artistic teaching long after his death.


Royal Academician

Foundation Member

Born: 1727 in Florence, Italy

Died: 14 December 1785

Nationality: British, Italian

Elected RA: 10 December 1768

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Painting and Printmaking

Works by Giovanni Battista Cipriani in the RA Collection

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Works after Giovanni Battista Cipriani in the RA Collection

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Works associated with Giovanni Battista Cipriani in the RA Collection

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Associated books

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Associated archives

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