(b. 1708, Lucca, d. 1787, Roma)
The Ecstasy of St Catherine of Siena1743
Oil on canvas
Museo di Villa Guinigi, Lucca
Pompeo Batoni was a very cultured man who gained international fame at an early age. He was the first Italian artist consciously to work out a formal alternative to Rococo art and Venetian painting, which he felt to be outdated. He trained in Rome where he studied Raphael and classic Renaissance art. He quickly came up with a "reform" program for painting along controlled academic lines. He set out to provide a series of paintings that could be used as a model for religious art. In his paintings each figure is posed in a composed fashion. With the work of his rival Anton Raphael Mengs, Batoni's art marked the first beginnings of Neo-Classicism, in an urbane, highly polished, if very derivative manner.
If we compare works on similar subjects (for example The Ecstasy of St. Francis by Piazzetta), we can measure the cultural change that Batoni was proposing.The great sense of movement contained in compositions by artists in the first half of the century could also be seen in the speed with which they painted. This was now subjected to a rigorous check. Everything was controlled and expressed in impeccable form at the cost of losing much emotional intensity. After the middle of the century, this academic way became the main influence on painting in central Italy.