Search the Collections

Stefano della Bella
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
A prolific Florentine graphic artist, Stefano della Bella ranks among the best etchers of the Italian Baroque and was a consummate draftsman as well. A nearly-exact contemporary of Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (1609-1664) and Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), della Bella was a major force in the Europe-wide market for prints. He created about 1,050 prints and thousands of drawings. His earlier work was greatly influenced by the French artist Jacques Callot (1592-1635), who worked in Italy from 1608 until 1621, first in Rome then in Florence, where he worked for the court of the Medici until the death of Duke Cosimo II (1590-1621). Over his career della Bella moved from Callot’s Mannerist style to a robust Baroque style that had a great influence on subsequent artists. Born on May 18, 1610 to the sculptor Francesco della Bella (d. 1612), three of Stefano’s older brothers were artists. After his father’s death, Stefano was apprenticed to various goldsmiths, perhaps from when he was ten years old. With his great talent for drawing, della Bella also studied with painters, including Giovanni Battista Vanni (1599-1660) and Casare Dandini (ca. 1595-1658). He probably learned etching from Remigio Cantagallina (1582/3-1656), who had been Callot’s teacher. Della Bella’s earliest surviving prints date from around 1627. One, The Banquet of the Piacevoli (1627, de Vesme 43), was dedicated to Prince Giovani Carlo de’Medici. By 1632 or 1633 della Bella received the patronage and a stipend from Lorenzo de’ Medici (1599-1648), uncle of the Grand Duke Ferdinando II (1610-1670). In 1633 della Bella received permission to study in Rome. His stipend continued and he was lodged in the Medici palace. Della Bella spent time in and around Rome, sketching ancient buildings and ruins, the Roman people and the countryside. The large number drawings from his Roman sojurn he later used in creating etchings. He apparently met the French print publishers Israël Henriet (ca. 1590-1661) and François Langlois (1588-1647) in Rome; they would later publish della Bella’s prints in Paris. Della Bella probably returned to Florence from time to time to publish prints and to satisfy commissions by the Medicis. In August 1639 he journeyed to Paris as part of the entourage of Baron Alessandro del Nero, the ambassador from Grand Duke Ferdinando II to King Louis XIII (1601-1643). Probably Henriet and Langlois encouraged della Bella to join them in Paris, since they needed an etcher in place of the deceased Callot. In addition to creating prints published by them and by Pierre Mariette I (1596-1657), Della Bella continued to receive his stipend from the Medicis and accepted commissions from French aristocrats such as Armand, Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642). Della Bella collected prints by Northern European artists, copied works by Rembrandt and visited Amsterdam in 1647. The drawings he made during this time mirror the wide ranges of subjects in his prints, including topographic views, buildings and bridges, theatrical events and festivals, the countryside around Paris, various landscapes, and scenes from the Thirty Years War. He produced a very large number of prints in Paris. One of his more interesting projects was four sets of playing cards created for Jules, Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661), showing kings and queens of France and scenes of mythology and geography on a very small scale. Civil unrest during the late 1640s probably led to della Bella’s return to Florence. His patron Lorenzo de’ Medici died in 1648 but his stipend was continued by Prince Mattias de’ Medici (1613-1667). Della Bella produced some of his best work after his return. He continued to execute commissions for the Medicis. Appointed the drawing teacher of the future Grand Duke Cosimo III (1642-1723), della Bella accompanied the young prince on at least two trips to Rome. Some of his prints were published in Paris as well as Florence. Drawings survive of costumes intended for theatrical performance; never made into prints, they may have served to guide construction of costumes. In 1656 della Bella was elected to the Accademia degli Apatisti, a Florentine literary society. Among his best late prints are six large landscape prints of sites in Rome and the Campagna (de Vesme 832-7), such as the Arch of Constantine (de Vesme 834) in the Museums’ collection. His experimental etchings of the late 1650s indicate that he attempted to add tone to the line of his etchings by directly applying diluted acid to the etching plate. Della Bella apparently suffered a stroke in 1661 and did little work thereafter. He died on July 22, 1664 in Florence. (TNB 3/2013) Selected bibliography: Massar, Phyllis Dearborn. “Introduction,” in De Vesme, Alexandre and Phyllis Dearborn Massar. Stefano Della Bella: catalog Raisonné by Alexandre de Vesme. 2 vols. New York: Collectors Editions, Ltd., 1971. Viatte, Françoise. “Stefano della Bella dessinateur,” in Les Dessins de Stefano della Bella. Paris: Éd. des Musées Nationaux, 1974.