Sebastiano Ricci, Battle of the Lapiths with the Centaurs, 1706

Sebastiano Ricci – the great artist who narrowly escaped death

The Appearance of Christ with Angels, 1708
The Appearance of Christ with Angels, 1708

Great artist who miraculously escaped death in his youth, and accumulated enormous wealth by old age

Sebastiano Ricci (August 1, 1659 May 15, 1734) the famous Italian artist of the late 17th early 18th centuries, a prominent representative of the late Baroque. Sebastiano Ricci was a prominent representative of European painting of the religious and mythological genres, his paintings and frescoes are distinguished by their light colors and accurate portrayal of individual characters. The master’s work had a huge impact on many generations of Venetian painters, and his biography is full of interesting events.

Sebastiano Ricci was not an outstanding mentor for young painters and preferred to work on his own all his life. His only student was his nephew Marco Ricci, who became famous for painting colorful landscapes.

Perseus turns Phineus to stone
Perseus turns Phineus to stone

Biography of Sebastiano Ricci

Sebastiano Ricci was born on August 1, 1659 in the small town of Belluno in northern Italy. The boy early showed a talent for drawing, so at the age of eleven he became a student of the Venetian painter Sebastiano Mazzoni, and a few years later he continued his studies with another artist Federico Cervelli.

At the age of 19, an extraordinary event took place in Ricci’s life. From him, the girl Antonia Venanzio became pregnant, who almost committed suicide after learning that Sebastiano refuses to marry her. The young artist was arrested and threatened with a prison term, but a mysterious patron from the influential Pisani family secured the release of the hapless ladies’ man.

Nymph and Satyrs, 1712-1716, Louvre Museum, Paris
Nymph and Satyrs, 1712-1716, Louvre Museum, Paris

Escaping severe punishment, Sebastiano left in 1681 for Bologna, where he completed several frescoes on the walls for the local monastic brotherhood. Having finished the work brilliantly, Ricci had no problems finding new wealthy clients, including the powerful Duke Ranuccio Farnese of Parma, who commissioned the artist to paint several paintings of a religious genre for the local monastery.

Jephthah and his daughter, circa 1710
Jephthah and his daughter, circa 1710

Personal life of the artist

In 1688, Sebastiano seduced a young girl Magdalena, the daughter of the artist Giovanni Francesco Peruzzini, and fled to Turin with her. But here he again went to prison and this time he was already facing the death penalty. Only the intercession of the Duke of Farnese allowed the master to avoid a harsh punishment and to be released. At the same time, the painter, under pressure from the church, had to officially marry Antonia Venanzio the mother of his only child. However, this marriage has always remained an empty formality and he never had more joint children with his wife.

In March 1691, Sebastiano Ricci went to Rome, where he settled in a luxurious mansion owned by the Farnese family. Over the next three years, he led a comfortable life in the Italian capital, fulfilling the orders of his patron and local nobles. But in December 1694, the Duke of Farnese died suddenly, after which the artist had to leave the palace in the center of Rome and leave the city.

At first he visited Milan, then for several years he lived in Venice and Pavia, for another two years in Vienna at the invitation of the Austrian emperor. In each of these cities, Ricci painted paintings and frescoes for local cathedrals and nobles. Gradually he gained fame as one of the best painters in Italy and received an invitation to come to Florence from Ferdinando Medici.

In the capital of the Duchy of Tuscany, the master created his most famous masterpiece a large decorative complex for five rooms of the Palazzo Marucelli-Fenzi. The artist worked on the grandiose fresco painting for two years, after which he left for Venice, where he lived for several years, being at the peak of his creative career.

Sebastiano Ricci goes to London

In 1712, Sebastiano Ricci, along with his student and nephew Marco, went to London at the invitation of Lord Burlington. The influential English philanthropist ordered eight paintings from the master, and also commissioned him to paint the walls and create stained glass windows in the newly built chapel. The painter lived for four years in Foggy Albion, and then, having received a huge reward for his work, he went to France.

In Paris, Sebastiano Ricci met and became friends with Antoine Watteau, who introduced him to the leadership of the French Academy of Arts. Thanks to the recommendation of a new friend, Ricci became an honorary academician of a prestigious institution and soon left for his homeland.

Infancy of Romulus and Remus, 1708
Infancy of Romulus and Remus, 1708

He returned to Italy in 1718 as a very wealthy man and with the money he earned in England bought himself a spacious apartment in the center of Venice. By that time, the painter was already 59 years old, and he could fully enjoy the luxurious life. However, until his death, the artist continued to do what he loved, periodically going on creative business trips to different cities.

By the end of his life, the authoritative master of painting did not have direct heirs. His only daughter died before she was 30 years old, so the artist bequeathed all his fortune to his official wife, with whom he did not maintain any relationship for decades. And on May 15, 1734, Sebastiano Ricci died after an unsuccessful surgical operation in Venice the city with which the most vivid memories of his turbulent youth were associated.

Sebastiano Ricci, Fall of Phaethon, 1703
Fall of Phaethon, 1703
The most famous paintings by Sebastiano Ricci

The brilliant Italian painter has created many striking masterpieces that deserve special mention. And yet, some of the most famous paintings by Sebastiano Ricci include:

  1. The fresco painting of the Palazzo Marucelli-Fenzi (1706-1707) is a masterpiece of the artist on a grand scale. Each of the five halls of the palace is decorated with numerous allegorical paintings glorifying universal human values.
  2. The Allegory of Tuscany (1706-1707) is a painting that was originally conceived as a model for the ceiling of the Palazzo Gaddi in Florence. But she really liked the Duke of Medici, and he decided to keep her as an original work of art.
  3. “The Victory of Wisdom over Ignorance” (1718) is an allegorical work by the master, written by him specifically for the French Academy of Arts. It was thanks to her that Ricci became an academician, and the painting itself is now in the Louvre.
  4. Bathsheba Takes a Bath (1720) is a colorful work on biblical themes. The beautiful image of the main character, surrounded by four maids, amazes the audience with her extraordinary whiteness of her body and chastity.
Sebastiano Ricci, Death of the Apostle Paul, 1700-1710
Death of the Apostle Paul, 1700-1710

Sebastiano Ricci was a great master of painting and left many wonderful works to descendants. His life path could tragically end in his youth, but, fortunately, the artist lived to a ripe old age and managed to fully realize his talent.

Sebastiano Ricci, Childhood of Tsar Cyrus, 1707
Childhood of Tsar Cyrus, 1707
Sebastiano Ricci, Battle of the Lapiths with the Centaurs, 1706
Battle of the Lapiths with the Centaurs, 1706
Sebastiano Ricci, Allegory of Tuscany, 1706
Allegory of Tuscany, 1706
Sebastiano Ricci, Abraham and three angels, 1693, Hermitage, St. Petersburg
Abraham and three angels, 1693, Hermitage, St. Petersburg