An Italian Fiddler
Research by Jacqueline Arundel
A warm and humorous painting in oils, a ‘real’ character has been immortalised on canvas. An elderly man, a travelling musician (pifferari), plays his violin in celebration of life and possibly inebriation (drunkenness). He peers through his round glasses, perched on the end of his nose, at his music which rests on a bottle of Chianti. This red wine, made in the Chianti region of central Tuscany, Italy is traditionally stored in a squat bottle enclosed in a straw basket called a fiasco (flask). He sits in front of a hearth, a brick or stone-lined fireplace in a tavern where an empty wooden barrel has been used as a table.
Using a thickly laden brush it has been painted from dark to light with the highlights picked out in white lead. Realistically painted, showing many different textures, glass, cloth, stone, wood, straw, paper and the old man's skin and hair, it showcases the artist's painting skills. The composition is triangular, see below.
In the Public Catalogue Foundation for Lancashire this painting has been attributed to Stefano Farneti. However, the painting is clearly signed 'D Farnetti’ and further research has indicated that the signatures are very different.
We have been unable to discover any information about D Farnetti but this painting, An Italian Fiddler, was probably painted for the tourist market. From 1860 there was an extraordinary boom in Italian tourism due to middle class enthusiasts of the ‘Grand Tour’, a kind of rite of passage which from the end of the 16th century had been very popular with the English and French. In the 19th century there was a revived interest in classical architecture, such as that being excavated in the Italian peninsular at Pompeii and Herculaneum, ancient Roman towns, both buried by the eruption of Vesuvius 79 AD. (RH, 2012) This boom was also maintained by fashionable and popular travel literature.
At this time most gypsy travellers avoided mixing with the local population who, on the one hand, admired these heirs of Antiquity, these ‘children of nature' whose lives were untouched by civilisation. On the other hand however, they adopted a condescending attitude towards those they regarded as rough, unpredictable peasants. These contradictory ideas were reflected in many accounts of travels, including those by Maximilien Misson, published in the early 18th century but often quoted in the 19th century, which evoked ‘A Paradise peopled with Devils and Madonnas’. Stereotypical images of the inhabitants of Italy, globalised by photography, were popular with tourists - travelling musicians (pifferari), water carriers, public scribes or homeless Neapolitan beggars (lazzarone). Painters and sculptors were always on the lookout for these saleable images. (MdO,2009) The depiction of elderly men playing musical instruments became a popular genre in Italy in the nineteenth century. Other practitioners of this genre included Pompeo Massani (1850-1920). (Howard, 2013) Old men participating in life’s small pleasures were one of his favourite subjects, local men who enjoyed his company and warm studio. (RFA, 2014)
The Old Musician, Pompeo Massani,
Date Unknown, Oil on canvas, 30 x 21.5 cm
Collection: Gallery Oldham
Other Paintings by D Farnetti
D Farnetti, Still life with fruit and flowers, (Italian 19th century),
oil on canvas, 55 x 68 cm (21.6 x 26.8 in)
We have discovered another 19th century oil painting by a ‘D Farnetti', with a close similarity between the artists’ signatures, called Still life with fruit and flowers.
Still life paintings rarely appeared in Italian fine art painting until the 19th century when academic painting declined along with the influence of the academies themselves and their hierarchy of genres. As a result landscape and still life flourished. (AE, 2014) This painting is in the José Busto’s Antiques and Art Collection. José Busto is a collector of European masterpieces, arts and crafts of the Orient, Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods, Cuban avant-garde and contemporary artists, purchased mostly from Cuban aristocratic families as a show of their ‘good taste’. Indeed this painting, currently valued at 2000USD, was purchased by José Busto from 'a big house in Matanzas, Cuba some years ago'. (Busto, 2014)
Unlike the rest of the world most art in Cuba is in the hands of government institutions, mainly due to economic circumstances, making the José Busto’s Collection
a rarity in Cuba. (BAAC, 2014)
In the 19th century ‘still life’ was often painted to demonstrate the technical virtuosity and drawing ability of the artist, a particular view of art or to demonstrate artistic emotion. Sometimes seen as boring, many contained complex messages (narrative) encapsulated in the type of objects displayed and how they are arranged. (AE, 2014) This painting could well be a religious painting as 19th century symbolism is attached to the objects painted:
AE (2014), Art Encyclopaedia, Visual Arts of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Still Life Painting @ http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/genres/still-life-painting.htm
AOM (2010), The Art of Mourning, A resource for memorial, mourning,
sentimental jewellery and art @ www.artofmourning.com/2010/12/26/symbolism-sunday-the-grape/#sthash.4VYiaey5.dpuf,
BAAC (2014), Busto’s antique and art collection, Cuba @ http://www.antiquesandartcollection.com/
Howard, L (2013), Vads, the national inventory for continental European paintings, The Italian Fiddler, D Farnetti @ http://www.vads.ac.uk/flarge.php?uid=87083
(MdO) (2009), Musee D’Orsay, France,
See Italy and Die. Photography and Painting in 19th-Century Italy @
RFA (2014), Rowles Fine Art, Artists Biography, Pompeo Massani,1850-1920 @ http://www.rowlesfineart.co.uk/ArtistBiography.aspx?artistInc=81&nme=Pompeo+Massani
RH, Roman Homes (2012), Pompeii and Herculaneum @
Farnetti, D, Still life with fruit and flowers (Italian, 19th century), oil on canvas,
55 x 68 cm @ http://www.antiquesandartcollection.com/d-farnetti-oil-canvas-italian/
Fantin-Latour, Henri Jean Theodore (1865), Flowers and Fruit on a Table,
oil on canvas, now in Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, United States @ http://www.artrenewal.org/pages/artwork.php?artworkid=13584&size=large
Massani, P (date unknown), The Old Musician, Pompeo Massani, oil on canvas, 30 x 21.5 cm, Collection: Gallery Oldham, bequeathed by Mrs J Wilde Clegg, 1918 @ http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/the-old-musician-90737