(b. 1823, Napoli, d. 1901, Napoli)
Italian painter and teacher. Unique among his Italian colleagues in enjoying an international reputation in his lifetime, he was, with Filippo Palizzi, the leading exponent of the Neapolitan school of painting in the second half of the 19th century and a major figure in the artistic and cultural life of Italy. He studied at the Academy of Arts in Naples.
His early works are Romantic and contain imagery drawn from the Middle Ages and Byron. In 1848 he won a fellowship to study in Rome. Morelli visited Florence in the 1850s where he received his first public recognition for The Iconoclasts. He participated in the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1855 and, later, in Florence was an active participant in the Macchiaioli discussions on Realism.
By the mid-1860s Morelli was one of the best-known Italian painters of the times. In 1868, Morelli became a professor of painting at his old school, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Naples. From that period onward, his interest turned to religious, mystical and supernatural themes, drawn from Christian, Jewish and even Muslim sources. Perhaps best-known from this period is the Assumption on the ceiling of the Royal Palace in Naples. From 1899 until his death, he was president of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Naples.
His realistic treatment of Romantic subjects revitalized academic painting, and his bold rendering of light and dark and his use of colour influenced both academic artists and more innovative painters such as the Macchiaioli. Morelli's paintings deal primarily with religious, historical, and literary subjects. They are marked by an intense, dramatic treatment of subject and, at the same time, by a realistic rendering of the details of everyday life.