Cipriani, Giovanni Battista (DNB00)

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CIPRIANI, GIOVANNI BATTISTA (1727–1785), historical painter and engraver, was born at Florence in 1727. His family was from Pistoja, and his first master was Ignazio Hugford, an Englishman, who settled early in life in Florence, and died in 1778. He also studied the works of Antonio Domenico Gabbiani, who flourished a few years before him. Cipriani's first public works were two pictures executed for the abbey of St. Michael-on-the-Sea at Pelago, one representing St. Tesauro, and the other St. Gregory VII. In 1750 he went to Rome, where he lived three years, and there became acquainted with Sir William Chambers, architect, and Joseph Wilton, sculptor, whom, on their return to London, he accompanied in August 1755, and took up his residence in Mews Gate, Hedge Lane, near Charing Cross. In the spring of 1758 the Duke of Richmond opened a gratuitous school of design, allowing artists access to his gallery in Privy Garden, Whitehall, where numerous casts from the antique were exhibited, and offered premiums for the best drawings. The school of drawing was under the management of Cipriani, and the school of modelling under Wilton. This school of art was not of long duration. Cipriani was elected a member of St. Martin's Lane Academy, and on the institution of the Royal Academy he was nominated by the king as one of its members in 1768. Here he exhibited between 1769 and 1783, and made the design for the diploma granted to the members of the Royal Academy, which was so successfully engraved by Francesco Bartolozzi, R.A. In acknowledgment of the members' appreciation of his services, Cipriani was presented in 1769 with a silver cup bearing the following inscription: ‘This cup is presented to J. B. Cipriani, R.A., by the president and council of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, as an acknowledgment for the assistance the academy has received from his great abilities in his profession.’ This cup was stolen from his son's house on the night of 25 Feb. 1795. The original drawing for the diploma plate was later on presented by Cipriani's eldest son to the Marquis of Lansdowne, and in 1806 it passed into the collection of George Baker. By his contemporaries Cipriani was esteemed the first historical painter. He executed, however, few pictures in oil, and these were weak. It is by his drawings that he was best known, chiefly in pen and ink, and sometimes coloured. Most of these drawings were engraved by Francesco Bartolozzi. Cipriani was mainly employed by publishers, and his reputation has extended to our time, especially during the last few years. He married an English lady in 1761, of moderate fortune, by whom he had two sons and a daughter; the youngest was Captain Sir Henry Cipriani, of the Huntingdon militia. The latter executed a water-colour drawing from Copley's picture, ‘The Death of Lord Chatham,’ which was engraved by Bartolozzi, and for which Sir Henry received the sum of one hundred guineas. Cipriani died of rheumatic fever at his residence near the King's Mews, Hammersmith, on 14 Dec. 1785, and was buried at Chelsea, where his friend and compatriot, Bartolozzi, erected a monument to his memory. His portrait has been engraved by his pupil, Richard Earlom, after Rigaud, and by Mariano Bovi. Cipriani engraved the following plates: ‘The Death of Cleopatra,’ after Benvenuto Cellini, and the ‘Descent of the Holy Ghost,’ after Gabbiani. Among his pictures are copies of portraits of Algernon Sidney, Edmund Ludlow, and John Locke. He painted some allegorical designs on the panels for the stage-coach first used by George III on 15 Nov. 1782, and repaired the painting by Antonio Verrio at Windsor, besides the Rubens ceiling in Whitehall Chapel, in 1788. A good collection of prints after his designs is in the department of prints and drawings, British Museum, and to those may be added the following illustrated works: ‘Anweisung zum Zeichnen nach Bartolozzi gestochen von P. W. Schwarz,’ 2 parts, obl. fol., Frankfort-on-Main, 1798–9; ‘Raccolta di 320 vedute sì antiche che moderne della Città di Roma,’ &c. (some by other engravers), obl. 4to, Rome, n.d.; ‘Cipriani's Rudiments of Drawings,’ engraved by F. Bartolozzi, obl. fol. London, 1786–92; ‘A Collection of Prints after the Sketches and Drawings of the late celebrated G. B. C., Esq., R.A.,’ engraved by Richard Earlom, fol. London, 1789; ‘Urnam hanc (the Portland Vase) … eques G. Hamilton … in Angliam transmisit et æri incidendam curavit (G. B. C. delin., Bartolozzi sculp.),’ 5 plates, without letterpress, fol. London, 1786; ‘Monumenti di fabbriche antiche estratte dai disegni dei più celebri Autori,’ 3 vols. large folio, Rome, 1793–1803; ‘Vedute principali e più interessanti di Roma,’ 12mo, Rome, 1799; ‘Degli Edifici di Roma vedute in contorno,’ 4to, Rome, 1817; ‘Gallerie delle Statue, Busti, &c.,’ obl. 4to, Rome, 1821; ‘The Marlborough Gems,’ drawn by B.C., and engraved by Bartolozzi. The descriptions, in Latin and French, by Jacob Bryant and Louis Dutens, 2 vols. 102 plates, fol. (London, 1780–91). Another edition, 2 vols. fol. London, 1845, &c. On 14 March 1786, and three following days, Cipriani's prints, drawings, &c., were sold at Hutchins's. On 22 March 1786, at a sale of pictures, his picture of ‘Cephalus and Procris’ realised eighty guineas at Christie's; and on 3 May 1821 was sold at Sotheby's a fine collection of drawings by him belonging to Mr. W. Lock of Norbury Park, Surrey. Several drawings by him are in the British Museum, and others in the South Kensington Museum. His portrait by Nathaniel Dawe, R.A., was exhibited at the South Kensington Museum in 1867.

[Redgrave's Dictionary of Artists, 1878; Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, 1858; Sandby's History of the Royal Academy of Arts, 1862; manuscript notes in the British Museum.]

L. F.