GIOVAN BATTISTA GAULLI,
CALLED IL BACICCIO
(Genoa 1639 – 1709 Rome)
Self Portrait while Painting, c. 1675
Oil on copper; 20 x 14.5 cm
Private collection, Paris.
Francesco Petrucci, Baciccio, Rome, 2009, p. 357, illustrated A4a.
One of the most celebrated artists of the Roman High Baroque, Giovan Battista Gaulli (called il Baciccio) enjoyed great fame and prosperity during his time and influenced European decorative painting for long after. Born in Genoa in 1639, Baciccio left his native city before 1658 and went to work for the Genoese art dealer Pellegrino Peri in Rome, where he fortuitously met Gian Lorenzo Bernini, whose advocacy assured a swift rise for the young artist. The powerful papal sculptor aided Baciccio in securing commissions and was responsible for his introduction to the Pamphili family, from whom he received the most important commission of his career: the decoration of the ceiling in the Church of il Gesù, executed between 1672 and 1683. A radiant and joyous vision of Catholicism The Triumph of the Name of Jesus is one of the grandest Baroque ceilings in Rome. Baciccio was appointed the Principe of the Accademia di S. Luca in 1673 and 1674, and it is fair to say he was the most esteemed painter in all of Rome between 1670 and 1685. The artist’s popularity waned, however, when he tried to conform his style to the changing tastes of his patrons later in his career. The trend towards a more sober classicizing style, exemplified by Carlo Maratta, prompted Baciccio to rein in his flamboyant manner and bravura of execution. His attempts to adapt to the newly fashionable style were less impressive and demand for his art dimmed with the decline of the High Baroque.
Though Bacaccio is best known today for his grand illusionistic vault frescoes he also painted altarpieces and mythological scenes, as well as portraits. Furthermore, in the second half of the seventeenth century he was the most esteemed portraitist in Rome, though today we can identify only a few of his works of portraiture, which reveal the influence of Anthony van Dyck in their elegance and painterly refinement. In the present Self-Portrait the artist depicts himself stylishly in a dark billowy jacket with white collar and ruffled cuffs, his wide eyes meeting the gaze of the viewer. Bacaccio often sketched his sitters as they casually went about their business in order to capture the quality of a living presence, an approach learned from his mentor Bernini. Here, too, we see the artist at his easel, dipping a paintbrush in the oil paint that shortly will make the first mark on the blank canvas before him. According to Francesco Petrucci, the facial features and fashion depicted in this copper suggest a date near 1675, around the same time that he painted his grandly romantic Self-Portrait hanging at the Uffizi.