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Ottavio Leoni
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One of the most influential portrait artists in Rome during the first three decades of the 17th century, Ottavio Leoni was a painter, draftsman and printmaker. The artist and writer Giovanni Baglione (ca. 1566-1643) wrote, “In all Rome there was no one who did not have his portrait by Ottavio—whether prince, princess, gentleman, gentlewoman, or person of private rank—and not a house in which some portrait from the hand of the Cavaliere was not to be seen.” (Lives of the Artists, 1642.) A prolific artist, 517 surviving drawings have been attributed to Leoni’s hand, along with 40 prints. His drawings were usually done in black chalk on tinted paper, highlighted with red and white chalk. While contemporaries wrote that he also created large numbers of paintings, both portraits and other subjects, few have survived. Leoni was born in 1578. His father Ludovico Leoni (1542-1612) was a painter and maker of wax and bronze figures, renowned for his portraits, and presumably trained his son in painting and drawing. Leoni’s earliest dated drawing is from 1600. In 1603 he was involved in a libel action brought against the painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) brought by Baglione. Baglione’s book provides the only contemporary biography of Leoni, although some contemporary documentation about him has also been found. He joined the Accademia di San Luca in 1604, and became its president in 1614. The records of the Accademia show that Leoni was active in its affairs for the rest of his life. In 1616 he married a widow, Caterina Cucchiarona Telli, whose son Ippolito (before 1616-1694) became his student. Members of the Borghese family were major patrons of Leoni for two decades or more. For example, dated drawings of family members from 1607, 1612 and 1627 survive. Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1577-1633) was a an enthusiastic collector of Leoni’s work; documents survive recording five payments between 1612 to 1621 made by the Cardinal to Leoni for paintings. Baglione wrote of Leoni drawings in the Borghese collection and guide books about the (then new) Villa Borghese written in 1650 and 1700 record numerous painted portraits by Leoni in the Villa. Leoni had begun making prints by 1621, many of them engraved with a smaller number etched. Forty of his prints are known today, all of them portraits. In 1621 Leoni was made a member of the Virtuosi al Pantheon, a charitable and religious cofraternity, and in 1628 donated a painted portrait of Pope Gregory XV to the Virtuosi. Leoni attended a meeting of the Accademia di San Luca on August 10, 1630, but fell ill soon thereafter. He made a will on August 31 of that year, died on September 3 and was buried in Santa Maria del Popolo, his parish church, the next day. Leoni’s will divided his engraved and etched plates between his wife and his stepson, but left all his drawings to Ippolito, who quickly decided to sell them, perhaps with some paintings as well. On September 9 Cardinal Scipione Borghese completed his payment to the estate of the large sum of 500 scudi for art works, presumably including both paintings and drawings. Scholars speculate that the Borghese collection of Leoni’s drawings came into the hands of a French collector; about 400 were sold at a 1747 sale in Paris. (TNB 4/2013) Selected bibliography: Bissel, R. Ward and Alan P. Darr. “A Rare Painting by Ottavio Leoni,” Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts, vol. 58, no. 1 (1980), pp. 46–53. Reed, Sue Welsh and Richard Wallace. Itallian Etchers of the Renaissance & Baroque. Exhibition catalog, pp. 158-160. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1989. Robbin, C. Roxanne. “Scipione Borghese’s Acquisistion of Paintings and Drawings by Ottavio Leoni,” in The Burlington Magazine, vol. 138, no. 1120 (July 1996), pp. 453-458. Spike, John T. “Ottavio Leoni’s Portraits alla macchia,” in Baroque Portraiture in Italy: Works from North American Collections. Exhibition catalog, pp. 12–19 and 106-121. Sarasota: John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 1984.