PIER LEONE GHEZZI (1674-1755)
CARICATURE OF A GENTLEMAN IN PROFILE
Signed l.r. Pietro Ghezzi Roma, bears inscription l.l. muy estimado
Pen & ink with faint black chalk
29.5 x 22.5 cm
[Possibly] King Carlos III of Spain, Madrid (1716-1788);
Anonymous sale, Christie's, New York, 13.01.1998, Lot 95 (one of two);
Private collection, Munich
Ghezzi was a Roman artist who spent most of his career working for the Papacy; however, he is chiefly remembered for his prolific output of caricatures of the courtiers around the Papal curia, Grand Tourists who visited Rome, and his fellow artists. His father was the Baroque painter Giuseppe Ghezzi (1634-1721), the first artist to hold the post of secretary in perpetuity of the Accademia di San Luca in Rome, and Pier trained under him as a youth.
In 1708, Pier was appointed painter to the Camera Apostolica by Pope Clement XI. Within this role, Ghezzi completed a series of landscapes for the gallery of the papal palace at Castel Gandolfo; however, his activities as a painter during his services to the Papacy are of much less significance than his work as a caricaturist, theatre designer and musician. His biographer, Lione Pascoli, noted Ghezzi’s many other talents, including that he carved in both copper and stone, had studied medicine and performed numerous dissections on cadavers in Rome, was a self-taught architect, and even produced a celebrated fete for the dauphin of France, with magnificent fireworks and decorations.
Caricatures such as the present work, which is a particularly fine example, are among the first drawings of this sort in the history of Western art, as well as serving as fascinating documentary records of the many people of influence who passed through Rome in the 18th century. Ghezzi’s subjects included English milordi on their Grand Tours, high-ranking clergymen in Rome, composers, artists, doctors, actors and actresses, and even Royalty.
Three albums containing such drawings passed down to his widow and were later owned by King Carlos III of Spain and the 1st Duke of Wellington, and by descent to the 7th Duke of Wellington, until they were sold in 1971. Two of the albums have now been broken up and dispersed, examples from which can be found, for example, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (see J. Bean and W. Griswold, 18th Century Italian Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1990, nos. 68-71, ill.), while an album containing 64 caricatures is in the Morgan Library and Museum, New York (inv. 1978.27). It is possible that the inscription to the bottom of the present sheet, which is in Spanish, may have been added while the album was in Madrid in Carlos III's collection: muy estimado (highly-regarded) may refer either to the quality of the drawing, the subject or even the artist himself, as the sitter remains unidentified for the moment.