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PELAGIO PALAGI (1775-1860)
  • PELAGIO PALAGI (1775-1860)


    Bears numbering to mount l.r. 

    Black chalk, pen and brush and brown ink on laid paper

    Paper watermarked with three crescents (trois lunes)

    28.8 x 23.8 cm



    Private Collection, Switzerland



    The present work likely dates to the first half of the artist's career, probably from around the time of his Bolognese apprenticeship to the Aldrovandi workshop, when his architectural training would have coalesced with the peak of the Bolognese intelligentsia's Egyptomania. Our drawing can be closely compared to a paintings from this period (see images 5 & 6), while the exacting eye for architectural precision foreshadows the sort of topographical work Palagi would produce in Rome (for example a series of 32 Roman drawings with Galleria Carlo Virgilio & c., Rome) [1]. The largest collections of such architectural drawings by Palagi, many of them including Egyptian motifs, can be found in Bologna in the Biblioteca dell'Archiginnasio and the Accademia di Belle Arti (see images 3 & 4 for examples) [2] [3]. 


    Shortly before Palagi's birth there had been a revival of  aesthetic interest in Egypt among the artistic patrons of Bologna, although Palagi would go on to add Abysinnian and Oriental elements into his own heady mixture of influences [4]:


    "La cultura di gusto egizio non dovette aspettare le battaglie napoleoniche per essere apprezzata dal milieu illuminista felsineo più aggiornato, ma sia bastato l'avventuroso ed inconcluso viaggio sul Nilo compiuto dal disegnatore Luigi Balugani, al seguito di James Bruce, per lasciar filtrare, dopo il 1770, gli elementi artistici egizi; e subito come siano stati apprezzati da artisti quali Vincenzo Martinelli - con cui Palagi collaborò agli affreschi di palazzo Aldini (1805) e palazzo Cospi - Davide Zanotti ed Emilio Manfredi." [5]


    ["Egyptomania did not have to wait for Napoleonic battles in order to take hold among the enlightenment milieu of Bologna; the adventurous but inconclusive journey on the Nile made the architect Luigi Balugani, following in the footsteps of James Bruce, was enough for Egyptian artistic elements to trickle through from 1770 onwards. They were immediately incorporated into artists such as Vincenzo Martinelli's practice - a figure with whom Palagi collaborated, on the frescoes of the Palazzo Aldini (in 1805) - as well as Davide Zanotti and Emilio Manfredi's (Palagi's collaborators on the Palazzo Cospi)."]  [Our translation]




    Pelagio Palagi was born in Bologna and began his artistic studies in the city at an especially young age, studying under the patronage of Count Carlo Filippo Aldrovandi, who discovered the prodigy and encouraged his talents. Aldrovandi would also sponsor the studies of another of Bologna's most gifted architectural draughtsmen of the time, Antonio Basoli, with whom Palagi formed a close bond and a shared love of Piranesi and Mauro Tesi's work. Palagi continued his studies more formally at the Accademia Clementina, but soon found commercial employment following the arrival of Napoleonic forces in the city: his mentor, Aldrovandi, won him the commission to design various emblems, medals, and uniforms for the short-lived Parisian Directory. Around this time, Pelagi began to work for various wealthy Bolognese families, designing sepulchres and domestic interiors.


    Palagi moved to Rome in 1806 to complete his studies at the Accademia di San Luca, possibly studying under Vincenzo Camuccini there. He continued to mine ancient iconography and architecture for his subjects, working on history paintings and portraits which incorporated these designs. From 1813, Palagi was inspector of the Accademia Italiana, alongside the Academy's President Antonio Canova. Palagi's task was to bring together and nurture the talents of Rome's most promising young artists at the Accademmia del Regno d'Italia. He was an important figure in the broader Italian Neoclassicist school, bringing together Camuccini, Felice Giani and Gaspare Landi at the Academy to champion the school.


    After some years in Rome, in 1816 Palagi moved to Milan toa private academy of his own, in competition with the Accademia di Brera, which had declined to offer him a teaching position. During this time Palagi came to specialise mainly in portraiture, finding a rich seam of clients in the city, and moved more towards the Romanticism that was popular in the North of Italy at this time. Despite this move away from his beginnings, Palagi continued to work on interior and architectural commissions during this period.


    At the peak of his career, Palagi was appointed by the House of Savoy's King Carlo Alberto to lead the renovations of the Royal Castle of Racconigi, after which Palagi moved to Turin and was placed in charge of the Castello di Pollenzo and the renovations at the Royal Palace of Turin. Unlike in Milan, Palagi was appointed to a professorship at the city's Accademia Albertina, being given the Cattedra di Ornato (Chair of Decorative Design), and left behind an extensive legacy of design work in the city that remains to this day. 


    • Notes

      [1] [Last Accessed 07.04.2022]

      [2] For an extensive selection of reproductions of these drawings and commentary on them, c.f. A.M. Matteucci, L’Attivita' giovanile di Pelagio Palagi nei disegni dell'archiginnasio di Bologna, in Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, Classe di Lettere e Filosofia, Serie III, Vol. IV, no. 2 (1974), pp.461-478

      [3] For an extensive group of reproduction images, cf. [last accessed 30.04.2022]

      [4] Cf. Daniela Picchi & Luca Chilo, Pelagio Palagi e le antichità egiziane di Giovanni Battista Belzoni, in L'Archiginassio: Bolletino della Biblioteca Comunale di Bologna (2019) 

      [5] C. Collina, Pelagio Palagi pittore: dipinti dalle raccolte del Comune di Bologna (exhib. cat.), Bologna (1996), p.127

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