Wilson Online Reference
Francesco Zuccarelli, 1702-1788
Connection to Wilson
Friend and Sitter
Biographical Details
Born at Pitigliano, in southern Tuscany, Zuccarelli began his apprenticeship in Rome c.1713-14 with the portrait painters Giovanni Maria Morandi (1622-1717) and his pupil Pietro Nelli (1672-1740). He completed his first commission (a pair of chapel altarpieces) in Pitigliano in 1724-27. With the sponsorship of the Florentine connoisseur, Francisco Maria Niccolo Gabburri (1676-1742) in the late 1720s and early 1730s Zuccarelli increasingly focused on etching. During his Tuscan period, though preoccupied with figurative subjects, he began to experiment with drawings of landscape, probably through the influence of the Roman landscapist and etcher, Paolo Anesi (1697-1773).

In 1732, after a stay of several months in Bologna, Zuccarelli relocated to Venice. While continuing to paint religious and mythological works, he increasingly devoted his output to landscapes, his style at first taking after that of Alessandro Magnasco and more lastingly, of Marco Ricci.The latter's death in 1730 had created an opening in the field of landscape painting and Zuccarelli's unique blend of countryside and Arcadia quickly achieved success. He brought a more mellow and airy palette to the typical Venetian colours and his rural scenes were populated with small figures reminiscent of Claude, whose work he had studied in Rome. He also occasionally created pastiches of various seventeenth-century Dutch masters. Zuccarelli enjoyed early patronage in Venice from such notables as Marshal Schulenburg and Francesco Algarotti and - significantly for his link with Wilson - of Consul Joseph Smith.

In the mid-1740s, under the auspices of Consul Smith, he produced (with Visentini) a series of pictures featuring neo-Palladian architecture; but the outstanding achievement of his Venetian years were seven canvases narrating the story of Jacob (Royal Collection). These tall paintings are couched in a tender and dream-like poetic vein and were most likely originally situated at Consul Smith's villa at Mogliano. Towards 1750, when Zuccarelli reached his peak, his paint handling was very responsive to mood, bright with regard to colour, thinly laid on and yet vibrantly effective. This was the period when he met Wilson in Venice (1751) - an encounter that Wilson recorded as with 'Sigr Zuccarelli, a famous painter of this place.' In return for a portrait of himself (P37) Zuccarelli offered to give Wilson one of his landscapes. Wilson also presented him with one of his own first landscapes, P35 River and Farmhouse - I, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, whose rococo handling, bright colours and theatrical landscape motifs reflected the prevailing Venetian style. Soon afterwards Zuccarelli travelled to England, where his decorative talent resulted in numerous commissions, including the design of tapestries with the weaver Paul Saunders at Holkham Hall. Around 1760 he turned to Shakespeare, depicting Macbeth and Banquo encountering the witches - noteworthy as being one of the first paintings to portray theatrical characters in a landscape. In 1762 King George III acquired 25 of Zuccarelli's works through the purchase of much of Consul Smith's extensive art collection and library.

After Wilson's return to England in 1757 he was encouraged by his associates to emulate the 'light airy manner of Zuccarelli' but was reported in the words of William Hodges, his pupil, to be 'disgusted at what he considered as frivolity ... and soon returned to his old pursuit formed in the school of Rome and acquired a style of painting as near perfection as perhaps is possible.' (Hodges 1790, p. 404). As Martin Postle has remarked, by the mid-1760s the contrast between Zuccarelli's pleasing pastoral and Wilson's high-minded aesthetic, grounded in direct observation from nature, must have been very apparent to contemporaries and may well have contributed to Wilson's increasing sense of isolation from the metropolitan artistic community (Wilson and Europe 2014, p. 291).

In 1763 Zuccarelli became a member of the Venetian Academy but he returned to London in 1765. On this second visit he was lauded by the English royalty, nobility and critics alike and invited to exhibit at the leading art societies. In 1768 he became a Founder Member of the Royal Academy. Returning to Italy in 1771, he was soon afterwards elected President of the Venetian Academy. The work of his late maturity can broadly be characterised as 'neo-Riccian', for in this period the artist's style recalls the precision of his youthful emulation of Marco Ricci. Zuccarelli eventually settled in Florence, where he died in 1788.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries Zuccarelli's reputation suffered greatly at the hands of British, whose judgment began to be revised only in Levey 1959.
Significant institutions
Venetian Academy;
Royal Academy of Arts