Barone Vincenzo Camuccini collection, Palazzo Camuccini, Cantalupo in Sabina
I Camuccini. Tra Neoclassicismo e sentimento romantico, curated by Antonacci Lapiccirella Fine Art and Maurizio Nobile Fine Art, Rome October 1-28 2021 at Antonacci Lapiccirella Fine Art, Paris November 5-11 at Galerie Eric Coatelem, Paris November 16 – December 3 2021 at Maurizio Nobile Fine Art.
P. Salvi, Vincenzo Camuccini: disegni d’anatomia presso il vero, in “Labyrinthos”, XXXIX/XL, 2001, pp. 122, 141, fig.8, n. 17; P. Salvi, Gli artisti e l’anatomia, in “Annali della Facoltà di Medicina e Chirurgia di Perugia”, 95, 2005, p. 91; Vincenzo Camuccini. 12 Anatomical Drawings from Life, cutared by F. Antonacci and D. Lapiccirella, text by C. Caputo, Rome 2014, n. 6 I Camuccini. Tra Neoclassicismo e sentimento romantico, catalogue of the exhibition curated by Antonacci Lapiccirella Fine Arte and Maurizio Nobile Fine Arte, text by Stefano Bosi, Rome – Paris 2021, p. 17, n.2
Vincenzo Camuccini, a pupil of Corvi, was one of the greatest exponents of Neo-Classical painting in Rome, where he was born in 1771. In the early years of the 19th century he was to become one of the most authoritative painters not only in cultural circles in Rome but in the art world in Italy as a whole. From his early youth he took an interest not only in painting but also in drawing, both from a strictly educational point of view and in terms of the production of sketches and models for his paintings. He maintained a constant distance from the pre-Romantic approach that was gaining a foothold in Rome at the time, choosing instead to pursue the path of Classicism; and then, not following in the footsteps of Batoni but preferring a more orthodox kind of Classicism that was more interested in the systematic study of Classical antiquity and of the Cinquecento.
The twelve Anatomical Drawings from Life published here are unquestionably an important instance of the artist's very early graphic work as well as offering an interesting example of the history of anatomical drawing tout court. The twelve sheets are part of an album containing anatomical (osteological and myological) studies of skinned bodies, preserved by the artist's heirs after his death. As Paola Salvi has pointed out (Salvi, 2001, p. 103), this corpus of drawings was collected and collated in the album by Camuccini himself, a suggestion confirmed in an inventory dated 1824 and in the above-mentioned autograph noted attached to the album. The volume, measuring 698 x 530 mm, is bound in full skin and the sheets are applied to the centre of the right-hand pages only; the spine bears the abbreviation: Disegni D’Anatom presso il vero. [Anatom. Drawings from Life].
An article by Hiesigner tells us that the plates were produced in the artist's formative years between 1786 and 1788, when the artist was aged between 15 and 17, while he took an interest in the study of Classical antiquity and the Old Masters between the ages of 16 and 18. In this connection Hiesinger writes:
After leaving Corvi’s studio, Camuccini resumed an independent program of training under the supervision of his older brother Pietro. It was at this time that he began to find permanent direction through a scrupulous study of antique sculpture and Old Master paintings. By his own account, Camuccini spent three years, from 1787 to 1789, studying the Vatican frescoes of Michelangelo and Raphael. This he supplemented by practice in drawing from life, and between 1786 and 1788 by visiting the hospital of S. Spirito to study anatomy from cadavers. (Hiesinger, 1978, p. 301)
As Hiesinger points out, in the later 1780s the painter was wont to visit the hospital of Santo Spirito in order to study anatomy from real corpses (so to call them "from life" is perhaps somewhat inappropriate) and thus to practise drawing the human body. In academic terms, the drawing of anatomy was considered a prerequisite for everything else, a crucial stage in one's studies that preceded any further artistic approach to the human figure; indeed so much so that Camuccini's biographer Carlo Falconieri, writing in 1875, stresses the point that:
[…] recognising that, without the study of anatomy, there can be no skill in drawing for use in the creation of works of art, [Camuccini] took care to mete out his time to the second so that he could devote several hours each day to going to the hospital of Santo Spirito in order to draw there the body prepared by the surgeon's knife; without which training the painter and sculptor would produce weak figures, like a building without foundations. He first went to osteology, and thence to myology, so as to discover not only the shape of muscles but the reason underlying the movement, action and rest of the muscles, tendons and the more vivid display of veins. (Falconieri, 1875, p. 18).
The importance of these sheets in the history of anatomical drawing is pointed up by Salvi when she states, in her study, that despite the fact that the practice of the study of anatomy in the Neo-Classical period is known primarily thanks to the series of Antonio Canova and to Giuseppe Bossi's Corso miologico [Course in Myology], Camuccini's work, by comparison with that of Canova and Bossi, "is more obviously designed for the study of movement, and offers a more targeted identification of the changes that occur in the modelling as the body assumes different attitudes" (Salvi, p. 106). This approach produces an extremely plastic depiction typically inspired by the work of Michelangelo, as Mellini points out in connection with the artist's later work (see Mellini, 1998, pp. 500–505). Bossi's Corso miologico adopts a more analytical criterion in its execution, thus more in the style of Andreas Vesalius and closer to the system of depiction regulating drawing for more properly scientific purposes, thus distant from any specifically artistic inclination. In Camuccini's anatomical work, on the other hand, it is immediately clear that the artist is interested in the possibilities offered by movement, especially in the later sheets where his research into the different positions of his figure is characterised by a strong plastic approach, often accentuated by emphasising the poses and imbuing them with expressive intentionality.
The drawings had originally been ordered in the album by similarity of subject, regardless of when they were drawn, but their chronology emerges fairly clearly from the use of sanguines of different texture (which can be distinguished by their colour) and from the change in style, moving from less complex to more complex compositions. The views of the hand (fig. 2) seem to belong to a very early period, whereas those of the foot and leg (fig. 7), while still descriptive by comparison with the final sheets, seem to betray a more marked desire to study movement. It is only in the final drawings, however, that the artist's purpose seems to be aimed more clearly towards a syntaxis of movement and the potential morphological changes that it causes. Starting with the sheets showing the upper limb in various positions, although always static (figs. 2–3), the artist subsequently moves towards increasingly complex poses, until he reaches the point of outright flexion and contortion, as in figure 7 which, as Salvi points out, echoes a similar study by Michelangelo for the left arm of Night now in the British Museum in London (see Salvi, p. 109). Lastly, figures 10 and 12 belong to the series of drawings devoted to the trunk which, in terms of their execution, are unquestionably the most complex and indeed also the latest in chronological order. This last group is the group that most closely echoes Michelangelo's manner of depicting the human figure, a characteristic that was to return with some frequency throughout Camuccini's subsequent artistic career.
View of the left upper limb in a pose. Body in prone position, arm partially abducted, forearm flexing towards the arm with hand in pronation as it clasps a rounded object (possibly a stone).
Carlo Falconieri, Vita di Vincenzo Camuccini, Rome 1875.
Ulrich Hiesinger, The Paintings of Vincenzo Camuccini, 1771–1844, «The Art Bulletin», LX, 2 June 1978.
Gian Lorenzo Mellini, Qualità di Camuccini, in Per Luigi Grassi – Disegno e Disegni, Faenza 1998, pp. 500–505.
Paola Salvi, Vincenzo Camuccini: Disegni d’anatomia presso il vero, «Labyrinthos», 39/40, 2001, pp. 103–158.
Paola Salvi, Gli artisti e l’anatomia, «Annali della Facoltà di Medicina e Chirurgia di Perugia», 95, 2005, pp. 79–99.