Thomas Lawson, Boston;
Scott & Fowles New York;
Alvan Tufts Fuller, Boston;
Colllection Pospisil , Venice;
Private Collection, Milan
New York, The American Art Galleries, 1923.
Milan, Villa Comunale, 1962.
The Thomas W. Lawson Collection / At the American Art Galleries,
New York, to be sold atunrestricted public sale / in the assembly hall /
of The American Art Galleries ;February 3rd,1923; sale on thursday
afternoon february 8th., n. 204 ripr..
A. Lancellotti, Antonio Mancini, Istituto Nazionale L.V.C.E. Officine
dell’Istituto italianodelle Arti Grafiche, Bergamo 1931, n.10 ripr..
M. Sciuti, La malattia mentale di Antonio Mancini, Estratto del fasc. III,
1947 della Rivista“L’Ospedale Psichiatrico”, fondata da Michele Sciuti,
Napoli, Tip. Ospedale Psichiatrico “L. Bianchi” 1947, pp. 42, 52, ripr 16.
Mostra di Antonio Mancini, introduzione di C. Lorenzetti, presentazione
di F.Bellonzi,Milano, Villa Comunale, ottobre – novembre 1962,
Milano 1962,p. 36 n. 48, tav XLVIII.
Antonio Mancini / Nineteenth - Century / Italian Master / Celebrating the
Vance N. JordanCollection / at the Philadelphia Museum of Art ,
Catalogo a cura di U. W. Hiesinger,pubblicato in occasione della mostra al
Philadelphia Museum of Art, 20 ottobre 2007 – 20 gennaio 2008,
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007, p. 106, nota 113.
Antonio Mancini was one of the leading figures of nineteenth-century European painting. In
his lifetime, he was admired and emulated by Italian and foreign artists and was widely
acclaimed by critics and the general public. One of Mancini’s admirers was the illustrious
American painter, John Singer Sargent. Indeed, Sargent wrote of Mancini,“I have met in
Italy the greatest living painter.”
Born in Rome to an Umbrian family of humble origins, Mancini trained at the Academy of
Fine Arts in Naples under the supervision of Domenico Morelli. He began his career in
1868 with the painting the Street Urchin, which found the admiration and appreciation of
his teacher. From 1872 onwards, Morelli began to display his work at the Paris salons. He
visited the French capital twice, also participating in the Universal Exhibition of 1878 and
enjoying great success. On his return to Naples, he began to suffer from symptoms
consistent with a psychotic disorder, which led to treatment in a lunatic asylum from the
end of 1881 to February 1882. In 1883, Mancini returned to Rome.
In the first decade of the twentieth century, Mancini travelled to England, Ireland and
Germany where he painted important portraits, especially for local middle-class clients.
He took part in leading exhibitions all over the world. In 1904, he won the gold medal at the
Universal Exhibition in Saint Louis for his “Portrait of Marchese Giorgio Capranica del
Grillo” (National Gallery, London, on loan to the Hugh Lane Municipal Art Gallery, Dublin).
At the Venice Biennale in 1920, where a solo exhibition was devoted to his paintings, he
enjoyed unprecedented success and all his works were sold. In December 1930, while he
was painting the final works for the Rome Quadriennale, which was to be held the
following year, the artist died in house on the Aventine Hill.
In the present work, Mancini portrays himself in half-length bust, with one of his renowned
painted plates in the foreground. These plates were ordinary ceramic dishes on which he
created full-length figures, frequently naked, faces or portraits. His method was to use just
his fingertips, dipped in paint, in the matter of a few seconds. His habit was to give these
plates to a restaurateur or friend in exchange for a meal. The plate depicted here by
Mancini, rendered with just a few deft touches, shows simply a head with a large
headdress. It stands out against the dark background while the outer edge of the dish, left
in its natural white, acts as a frame. Mancini enjoyed painting self-portraits throughout his
life, from the first studies he made when he was only fourteen until 1929, just a year before
This work belongs to the group of important, youthful self-portraits made during the socalled
“period of madness” which can be traced back to the late 1870s – after his return
from Paris – and continued until 1883 when he moved from Naples to Rome, including the
brief phase spent in a mental institution. The facial features of the painter correspond most
closely to the period 1882-83, as does the expression of excitement and the sneering
smile, which occur fairly frequently in the self-portraits painted during that moment. Of
Mancini’s known works, this is one of the most significant and complete from a pictorial
During this period his self-portraits were more frequently sketched, almost drawn, painted
in oil on paper, often with a single colour such as the Naples self-portrait (Museo di
Capodimonte) and Milan self-portrait (Museo della Scienza e della Tecnica). Here, broad
brushstrokes were carefully applied to create the essential lines of the features of the face
and the dark jacket while the plate is portrayed in a more controlled manner. The figure of
the painter emerges from a bipartite background, light on the right and dark on the left,
according to a procedure frequently repeated by Mancini in the following years.
The artist proved popular amongst collectors in the United States. In about 1907, Mancini
received a commission to paint a large, full-length portrait of Thomas W. Lawson, an
American financier from Boston given the moniker “the king of copper”. The self-portrait
with the plate became part of Lawson’s collection in the same year and was later
auctioned at the American Art Galleries in New York in 1923.
Subsequently, the self-portrait was with the well-regarded New York firm, Scott & Fowles.
The work appears to have been purchased from the gallery by the American businessman
and politician Alvan Tufts Fuller, the governor of Massachusetts from 1925 to 1929. His
collection, including the present painting, came under the hammer at Christie’s, London, in
December 1961. It was at this date that the painting returned to Italy. It was amongst the
most-significant works by the painter selected for the large exhibition held at the Villa
Comunale, Milan, in 1962. Thereafter, it remained tucked away in a private collection for
over fifty years.