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Artist of the Month: April 2014

Francesco Bartolozzi RA (1727-1815)

Published 3 April 2014

Born in Florence, Italy, the son of a goldsmith, Bartolozzi trained with his father before enrolling at the Florentine academy in 1742.

  • There the engraver and painter studied under Giovanni Domenico Ferretti and the Anglo-Florentine Ignazio Hugford. Bartolozzi produced his first engravings while still in Florence before moving to Venice in 1748 to complete an apprenticeship with the engraver and printseller Josef Wagner. He set up his own workshop in the city six years later but new commissions tempted Bartolozzi to Rome in 1762, where he worked for Piranesi and sealed his reputation as one of the country’s most talented engravers.

    In Italy, Bartolozzi met King George III’s librarian, Richard Dalton, who persuaded him to come to London in 1764. Soon afterwards, he was appointed Engraver to the King and subsequently remained in England for nearly 40 years during which time he produced many highly skilful prints reproducing old master drawings from the Royal Collection, including this example after a drawing by Michelangelo for the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel. Only four years after he had arrived in London Bartolozzi also became one of the founding members of the Royal Academy of Arts. Although the rules of the new institution excluded engravers from membership, Bartolozzi was so highly regarded that this was disregarded in his case.

    Bartolozzi engraved the Academy’s ‘Diploma’, still in use today, and he collaborated on many artistic projects with fellow Academicians including his lifelong friend Giovanni Battista Cipriani, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Angelica Kauffman. In addition to his line engravings, Bartolozzi specialised in, and did much to popularise, the ‘crayon manner’ and stipple engraving techniques both of which produce soft, tonal effects particularly suited to the reproduction of drawings and portraits. Bartolozzi was also in demand for his graceful, decorative designs for concert tickets, calling cards and invitations and he produced these in great numbers, often working with Cipriani.

    In 1802 Bartolozzi left London for Lisbon to take up a new post running the Portuguese royal printing press. The results of this venture were mixed as Bartolozzi was old by this time and left one of his pupils in charge of running his workshop. The French invasion of Portugal in 1807 did not improve matters but, despite a dwindling income, Bartolozzi continued, dying in his workshop in 1815. He was buried in Lisbon in the church of Santa Isabel.