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Fig. 3: P. Pelagi, Sketch of Paintings on Display at the Exhibition on the Campidoglio in November 1809, 1809, drawing. Bologna, Biblioteca Comunale dell’Archiginnasio.

thematic allusions designed to celebrate the House of Borghese and the splendid collection of ancient and modern sculpture housed in the Casino.7 Between 1776 and 1777 Peter decoratd the walls of the Casino’s large hall of honour (the ceiling of which was being simultaneously decorated by Mariano Rossi with a fresco depicting Romulus Welcomed by Jupiter onto Mount Olympus, alluding to the noble ancestry of Marcantonio’s son Crown Prince Camillo, born in 1775) with an admirable series of fully 162 different animals painted in fresco without any preparatory drawing but after in-depth study from life, amid a setting of arabesques and grotesque decoration recently frescoed on the same walls by painter and decorator Pietro Rotati. At the same time, Peter produced a considerable number of oil paintings on canvas on animal themes, many of which have unfortunately been lost but which were intended to adorn the space above the doors in a number of the Casino’s rooms8. Moving to Rome for good in 1774, Peter, who enjoyed immense success as early as in the 1780s thanks to his portrayal of animals fighting, was involved over the next fifty years (until his death in 1829) in several of the most important artistic projects to be commissioned in the papal capital in those years. In addition to his

work on the Casino Borghese, he also took part in the decoration of the Salone d’Oro in the Palazzo Chigi and of the Gabinetto Nobile in the Palazzo Altieri (1789–90), in addition to which he was one of a team of painters commissioned by Czarina Catherine II of Russia, under the leadership of Cristoforo Unterperger from the Val di Fiemme, to create a life-size reproduction of Raphael’s Vatican Loggia for the Winter Palace in the Hermitage9. His animal paintings, for their part, spawned several graphic models which were translated over the years into micro-mosaic by the “Studio del Musaico della Reverenda Fabbrica di San Pietro” in the Vatican and by the numerous contemporary “micro-mosaic” workshops active in Rome. A part of the figurative repertoire adopted by the Vatican workshop in the final years of the 18th century is based on Peter’s paintings, as indeed are several of the mosaic panels produced by Cesare Aguatti and Giacomo Raffaelli and now preserved in some of the most important collections in the world, such as the Gilbert Collection in London10. Peter rose to fame and acquired immense international prestige in the early years of the 19th century. In an obituary in 1830, the

1 See. Spiegazione delle opera di Pittura, Scultura, Architettura ed incisione esposte monographic issue edited by L. Barroero and S. Susinno, Rome 2002, pp. nelle sale del Campidoglio il dì 19 novembre 1809, Rome 1809. F. A. Visconti, 241–61. Lettere nelle quali si dà conto delle opere di Pittura, Scultura, Architettura, ed 7 On this issues see I. Faldi, Galleria Borghese. Le sculture dal secolo XVI al XIX, Incisione esposte nelle stanze del Campidoglio lì 19 novembre 1809, in “Il Giornale Rome 1954; P. Della Pergola, Villa Borghese. Itinerari, Rome 1962; P. Mangia, Il del Campidoglio”, n. 71, Rome, 11 December 1809, pp. 289–90. ciclo dipinto delle volte. Galleria Borghese, Rome 2001; Villa Borghese. I principi, 2 Amélie Odier, Mon voyage en Italie 1811–1812, edited by D. Vaj, Geneva 1993, le arti, la città dal Settecento all’Ottocento, exhibition catalogue (Rome 2003–4) p. 208: “Nous avons frémi devant un tableau […] qui représente le combat edited by A. Campitelli, Rome 2003. d’un lion et d’une tigre”. 8 See F. Noack, Artisti nordici a Villa Borghese, in L’Italia e l’arte straniera, “Atti 3 For Murat’s collection now see O. Scognamiglio, I dipinti di Gioacchino e del X Congresso Internazionale di Storia dell’Arte in Roma”, Rome 1922, pp. Carolina Murat. Storia di una collezione, Naples 2008; for Peter’s painting p. 413–17: p. 416. 123 and attendant notes. 9 See M. B. Guerrieri Borsoi, La copia delle Logge di Raffaello di Cristoforo 4 C. Fiorillo, Una vendita all’asta nel Real Museo Borbonico (I), in “Napoli Unterperger, in Cristoforo Unterperger. Un pittore fiemmese nell’Europa del Nobilissima”, vol. XXVII, files V–VI, September–December 1988, pp. 161– Settecento, exhibition catalogue edited by C. Felicetti, Rome, pp. 77–82; N. 72: p. 170, n. 14: “Leone che combatte con una tigre, di Peters, di palmi sette ed Nikulin, Le Logge di Raffaello all’Ermitage di San Pietroburgo, in Giovan Battista once nove per nove ed once nove, valutato per 2000 ducati”. Dell’Era (1765–1799). Un pittore lombardo nella Roma neoclassica, exhibition 5 See S. A. Meyer, entry in Maestà di Roma da Napoleone all’Unità d’Italia: catalogue (Treviglio), edited by E. Calbi, Milan, pp. 29–39. Universale ed Eterna, Capitale delle arti, catalogue of the exhibition in Rome 1 0 See J. Hanisee Gabriel, The Gilbert Collection: Micromosaics, with contributions (designed by S. Susinno, produced by S. Pinto with L. Barroero and F. by A. M. Massinelli, and essays by J. Rudoe and M. Alfieri, London 2000. 1 1 “Kunstblatt”, Necrolog, 1830, p. 191. Mazzocca), Milan 2003, cat. III. 4, p. 127. 6 See S. Rolfi, S. A. Meyer, “L’elenco dei più noti artisti viventi a Roma” di Alois 1 2 See G. Sacchetti, “Adamo ed Eva nel Paradiso Terrestre”. Di Venceslao Peter nella Hirst, in “Roma moderna e contemporanea. Rivista interdisciplinare di studi”, Pinacoteca Vaticana, in “Bollettino, Monumenti, Musei e Gallerie Pontificie”, year X, n. 1–2, January–August 2002, La città degli artisti nell’età di Pio VI, XI, 1991, pp. 179–187.

Fig. 5: J. W. Peter, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, c. 1790 – 1829, oil on canvas, Vatican City, Vatican Museum. (Photo © Vatican Museum)

German review “Kunstblatt” described him as “the man who painted animals’ portraits” and pointed out that his paintings were not simply still in demand but were being shipped as far afield as “Naples, Florence, Milan, Prague, Prussia, Russia, Spain, France, America and, above all, to England”11. The esteem that this Bohemian painter enjoyed at the papal court was confirmed when his daughter Marianna Peter turned to Pope Gregory XVI in 1831, fully two years after his death, to sell some of the pictures that had remained unsold in her father’s workshop. The pope agreed to buy eleven of the paintings, and they were immediately transferred to the Vatican to join the collections in the museum there. One of the most outstanding of these works, in terms of both size and quality, is Peter’s monumental canvas depicting Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (fig. 5). This painting – something of a “work in progress” over which Peter laboured for almost half a century, forever adding new animals as we can see from an unfinished bird perching on the branch of one of the trees, and which remained in his workshop right up to his death – contained fully 240 different animals. It must have played the role of a huge sales catalogue from life, from which his wealthy Roman and international could freely choose the animals they wanted him to paint in the pictures that they were commissioning from him12.

Fig. 4: J. W. Peter, Combat Between a Lion and a Tiger, oil on canvas, Vatican City, Vatican Museum. (Photo © Vatican Museum)


Francesco Leone

Roma, Via Margutta, 54 Tel. +39.06.45433036 -

Francesca Antonacci

Damiano Lapiccirella

Johann Wenzel Peter (Karlsbad, 1745 - Roma, 1829)

In the footsteps of Gioacchino Murat

Johann Wenzel Peter (Karlsbad, 1745 - Rome, 1829)

A Lion and a Tiger Fighting Over a Fawn, 1809 Oil on canvas, 81 x 103 cm.


Private collection, Milan. This hitherto unpublished painting is an immensely interesting find in helping us to reconstruct the artistic career of Wenceslaus Peter, a Bohemian painter who was to become a naturalised Roman citizen. As a number of drawings by Bolognese painter Pelagio Palagi show us (figs. 1–3), this canvas is a smaller version (about half the original size) of a work of the same subject shown at a famous exhibition organised by the Napoleonic authorities in the Campidoglio in November and December 1809 to celebrate Rome’s promotion to the rank of imperial city immediately after the annexation of the Papal States, the enforced exile of Pope Pius VII Chiaramonti and the end of the Roman Catholic Church’s temporal power. The painting shown in the 1809 exhibition, which sources of the period describe as “life-size”1, was purchased by the King of Naples, Gioacchino Murat, who visited the Campidoglio on 14 November – along with General Sextius-Alexandre-François Miollith, the president of the Constitutional Court and governor of Rome, with several of his generals and with the members of the commission tasked with selecting the works of art for display – to peruse the exhibition, which was to be inaugurated a few days later. An anonymous essayist writing in the November 1809 edition of the “Giornale Romano” said that “His Royal Majesty asked for” reports on the “items on display and demanded detailed information. He examined everything meticulously and, mixing opportune praise with generous reward, he added the glory of his choice to the arts of Rome”. Peter’s now lost painting – displayed in the room which also hosted Bertel Thorvaldsen’s Portrait of Ida Brun and a large seated statue of Sardinia carved by Felice Festa for the funerary monument of the Duke of Montferrat – was instantly removed to Naples along with works by thirteen other artists which Gioacchino had bought. Hung in the Royal Palace, where it was admired by French traveller Amélie Odier in 18122, the painting was to remain there until well after 1815, the year in which Murat died and his wife Caroline Bonaparte was exiled from Naples at the end of a reign that had lasted seven years (1808–15)3.

Fig. 1: P. Pelagi, Murat at the Exhibition on the Campidoglio in November 1809, watercolour. Naples, Museo di San Martino

this time. The departure of Peter’s work for Naples and thus its final disappearance from the art scene in Rome, together with the prestigious Neapolitan provenance of the work under discussion here and with the consideration that there is no record of the Bohemian painter ever having visited the city, provide us with a fairly accurate date for its execution and indirectly testify to the fact that the painting was commissioned by one of the members of Murat’s entourage who was in Rome with him and subsequently moved to Naples, whither in all likelihood the painting was shipped to him. The Vatican Museum has in its collections a painting similar to the one under discussion in this paper, but with the substantial difference that the fawn in missing altogether (fig. 4)5. Peter’s patrons were always of the highest rank throughout his lengthy career. He was the most celebrated and sought-after painter of animals in the Rome of Pope Pius VI Braschi and Pope Pius VII Chiaramonti between the last quarter of the 18th century and the first twenty years of the 19th century. The Elenco dei più noti artisti viventi a Roma – an extremely valuable source for the study of late 18th century Roman art, which was drafted by German painter and art critic Halois Hirst in 1786 (who was in Rome from 1782 to 1796) – describes the boundless esteem in which the painter was held at the time by the papal capital’s artistic community6. In his list, Hirst refers to the mural and canvases which Peter, a favourite with Prince Marcantonio IV Borghese, had produced as part of a decorative scheme involving both painting and sculpture for the new ornamental complex in the Casino Nobile di Villa Borghese in Rome. The scheme, which Prince Marcantonio IV commissioned in 1775 under the direction of architect Antonio

Upon the House of Bourbon’s return to the throne of Naples, the painting entered the very rich art collection of Prince Leopoldo of Salerno, King Ferdinando I’s third son, and it was to remain in the Royal Palce until 9 September 1854, when it was valued at two thousand ducats (a considerable sum) and sold in an auction held in the rooms of the Real Museo Borbonico di Napoli (now the Museo Archeologico Nazionale) as part of an attempt, together with the sale of the rest of the collection, to help pay the huge debt that the prince had incurred4. All trace of the painting was then lost. In this context, Peter’s painting under discussion in this paper may be seen to be even more interesting, especially if we consider that, in all likelihood, it was commissioned by one of the members of the entourage that accompanied Gioacchino Murat to Rome at

Fig. 2: P. Pelagi, A Room at the Exhibition on the Campidoglio in November 1809, 1809, drawing. Bologna, Biblioteca Comunale dell’Archiginnasio


Francesca antonacci damiano lapiccirella wenzel peter  

Francesca antonacci damiano lapiccirella wenzel peter