Collection Otto Eugenio Messinger;
Collection Cassani, Milan;
Collection Bertolotto, Turin
1911, Rome, Esposizione Internazionale
1912, Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum
1918, Zurich, Kunsthaus
1922, Madrid, Salòn de Otoño
L. Ozzola, L’arte contemporanea alla Esposizione di Roma del 1911, Rome,
s.d (1911) p.22.
L. Ozzola, Artisti contemporanei: Antonio Mancini, in “Emporium”,
vol. XXXIII, n. 198, June 1911, p. 422 repr.
Esposizione internazionale di Roma / Catalogo della mostra di Belle Arti
Roma 1911, Bergamo 1911, p.12 n.89.
Amsterdam, Internationale Tentoonstelling van Hedendaagsche Kunst,
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 1912, n. 599.
E. Giannelli, Artisti napoletani viventi. Pittori, scultori, incisori, architetti,
Naples, 1916, p. 310.
Cronache. La Mostra italiana di Zurigo, in “ Emporium”, n. XLVIII, October
1918, repr. p. 216.
Catálogo del tercer Salón de Otoño Fundado por la Asociación de
Pintores y Escultores, Madrid - October – 1922, p. 32, n. 404 (“Mimosa”).
G. Gatti, Pittori italiani dall’800 a oggi, Rome, 1925, p. 114.
P.A. Corna, Dizionario della Storia dell’Arte in Italia, Vol. II, Piacenza, 1930, p. 620.
A.M. Comanducci, I pittori italiani dell’Ottocento, Casa Editrice
Artisti d’Italia, Milan, 1934, p. 389.
Michele Biancale, Antonio Mancini : la vita : Roma, 1852-1930, Rome 1952, p. 127.
A. Schettini, Mancini, Naples 1953, p. 47 repr. tab. LI.
M. Borghi, Da Mancini a Scipione. Galleria di artisti italiani, Roma, 1960, p. 47.
M. Biancale, Arte italiana. Ottocento e Novecento, Roma, 1961, Vol. 1,
repr. pp. 149, 152.
D. Cecchi, Antonio Mancini, Turin 1966, pp. 237 - 238, 248.
A. Schettini, La pittura napoletana dell’Ottocento, Naples, 1973, vol. III, p. 171.
Don Riccardo, Artecatalogo dell’Ottocento. “Vesuvio” dei pittori
napoletani, Rome, 1973,vol. II, p. 294.
Antonio Mancini was one of the most prominent Italian painters of the late nineteenth
century. The son of an impoverished tailor, he was born in Rome in 1852 and showed
precocious ability as an artist. At the age of twelve, he was admitted to the Institute of Fine
Arts in Naples, where he studied under Domenico Morelli (1823-1901), a painter of
historical scenes who favoured dramatic chiaroscuro and vigorous brushwork, and Flippo
Palizzi (1818–1899), a landscape painter. Mancini developed quickly under their guidance,
and in 1872, he exhibited two paintings at the Paris Salon.
Mancini worked at the forefront of the Verismo movement, an indigenous Italian response to
19th century Realist aesthetics. His usual subjects included haunting portrayals of children
of the poor, juvenile circus performers, and musicians he observed in the streets of Naples.
Typical of this work is his portrait of the young acrobat in Saltimbanco (Philadelphia
Museum of Art, 1877-78), which exquisitely captures the fragility of a young boy whose
impoverished childhood is spent entertaining pedestrian crowds.
While in Paris in the 1870s, Mancini met the Impressionists Edgar Degas and Édouard
Manet. He also became friends with John Singer Sargent, who famously pronounced him to
be the greatest living painter. In 1881, Mancini suffered a disabling mental illness. He
settled in Rome in 1883 for twenty years, then moved to Frascati where he lived until 1918.
During this period of Mancini’s life, he was often destitute and relied on the help of friends
and art buyers to survive. After the First World War, his living situation stabilized and he
achieved a new level of serenity in his work. Mancini died in Rome in 1930 and was buried
in the Basilica Santi Bonifacio e Alessio on the Aventine Hill.
While working in Rome, Mancini perfected his eccentric graticola, or grille, painting
technique, which left visible crisscrossing or parallel striations in the wet impasto of many
of his later paintings. This graticola process involved two arrangements of thread strung on
identical frames that were then placed side by side: one frame in front of the sitter, the other
on the canvas. The Irish dramatist Augusta Grefory, who sat for Manciini in Dublin in
1907, described the way the artist would fix his gaze on some part of her face, back up as
much as possible and then advance toward her, gathering speed, his paintbrush outstretched
like a sword. “I needed courage to sit still,” she wrote. “But the hand holding the brush
always swerved at the last moment to the canvas, and there in its appropriate place, between
its threads, the paint would be laid on, and the retreat would begin.”
Many of Mancini’s portraits and figure studies show the influence of earlier artists such as
Velazquez, Goya, Frans Hals, and Rembrandt, with glittering effects of light and thick
impasto, even incorporating glass and tin-foil in some of his later pictures. His works tend
to be an eccentric mix of contradictory impulses: academic idealization, gritty realism,
bravura society-portrait brushwork and thick modern-looking impastos applied with a
palette knife. In many instances, it is as if Courbet, Jean-Léon Gérôme and John Singer
Sargent all joined forces, to produce Mancini’s remarkable and distinctive vision.
Suonatrice di mandola was painted in Munich in 1910. Mancini visited Germany as a guest
of the German antiquarian and collector Baron Otto Messinger in the winter of 1909-10.
Three years earlier, in Rome, Baron Messinger arranged a contract with Mancini which
asked the artist to paint works that fulfilled his peculiar taste for antiques. In addition to
being a serous collector of Old Master paintings, Messinger loved all manner of antiquarian
objects, including furniture, Venetian fabric, musical instruments, weapons and the like.
With Messinger playing the role of impressario, typical works of this period by Mancini
portray figures in various antique costumes, as well as paintings full of furnishings, objects,
and antique works of arts.
In Suonatrice di mandola, probably at Messingers request, the young seated woman is
wearing an antique Japanese costume. In the interior there is a painted plate at the upper
right and, on a small table, an antique vase, both also Japanese, and clearly included to
convey a sense of stylististic continuity. The woman is portrayed frontally, with her hair
gathered in a bun tied with a garland of flowers. An intense diagonal light illuminates her
face revealing the hint of a smile. The impasto of the painting, where black, red and white
prevail, thickens on several points on the canvas surface, giving shape to a sort of bas-relief.
Suonatrice di mandola belongs to a group of works that are similar in composition and
format, and were all painted during the same period of Mancini’s career. Each of these
paintings feature women seated in a decorative interior, and display the energetic use of
heavy impasto. The portrait Gertrude (Museo Evoltella, Trieste) – ill. 1, is another good
example. As in many of these portraits, the background of Suonatrice di mandola is closed
off with a dark theatrical curtain, following a pattern familiar in Mancini’s works beginning
in the 1890. This dark backdrop also is featured in the large portrait of Otto Messinger
painted in Rome in 1909 (Galeria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome) – ill. 2.
The present portrait of a woman in a Japanese costume presumably was executed in
connection with another, similar, but more narrowly shaped canvas, where the same model
is depicted in a three-quarter view. (Private collection, Italy) - ill. 3. It is likely that, this
narrow canvas was the first conception of the compostiion, which then was developed, into
the finer and more complete Suonatrice di mandola.
Cinzara Virno will include this painting in her forthcoming Catalogo Generale dei dipinti di
Antonio Mancini, to be published by De Luca Editori d’Arte, Rome.