Milan exhibition on the Ligaris, Lombard painters of the 18th century

1. Pietro Ligari (1686-1752)
The Immaculate Conception
with Trinity
, before 1718
Oil on canvas - 175 x 118 cm
Andalo, Church of Immacolata
Photo : M. de P.

23/7/08 — Exhibition — Milan and Sondrio — Along with Carlo Innocenzo Carlone and Giuseppe Antonio Petrini, Pietro and Cesare Ligari are among the most important painters active in the 18th century in the Valtellina, the small Alpine valley on the border between Lombardy and Switzerland. Following a century of specialized studies and publications, an exhibition was devoted to them in Milan, providing a chance to assemble works scattered in churches and museums which are off the beaten tourist track, as well as in private collections or banks.

Influenced by Roman models from around 1700 (Lazzaro Baldi) and even more so by the art he saw in Milan (Filippo Abbiati, Il Legnanino, Andrea Lanzani…), Pietro Ligari (1686-1752) created large altarpieces characterized by a balanced composition, a solid modele and strongly contrasting luminosity. He produced his most beautiful canvases during this Milanese period of classical tendencies, around 1717-1720, including the Immaculate Conception (ill. 1), Saint Francis Xavier Baptizing an Indian Princess (ill. 2) and David’s stories (ill. 3).

2. Pietro Ligari (1686-1752)
Saint Francis
Xavier Baptizing the Indian Princess Neachile
, 1717
Oil on canvas - 185 x 320 cm
Sondrio, Banca
Popolare di Sondrio
Photo : Press

3. Pietro Ligari (1686-1752)
Samuel Anointing David, c. 1717
Oil on canvas - 118 x 147 cm
Sondrio, Credito Valtellinese
Photo : Press

When his father died ten years later, he took over the family workshop, settling permanently in the Valtinella. He received several commissions for altar pieces done in a very personal style (ill. 4). There are also some beautiful portraits, austere and somber, in the realistic Lombard tradition of Fra Galgario and Giacomo Ceruti. Those of his father (Milan, Brera) and his daughter (Milan, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana), reveal the tenderness of his feelings for the subjects along with a fine psychological perception, earning them a place in anthologies of the genre.

4. Pietro Ligari (1686-1752)
Madonna of the Rosary with the
Saints Dominic
et John of Nepomuk
, 1738
Oil on canvas - 240 x 153 cm
Chiavenna, Church San Lorenzo
Photo : M. de P.

5. Pietro Ligari (1686-1752)
The Guardian Angel, c. 1743
Oil on canvas - 99 x 74 cm
Como, Pinacoteca Civica
Cesare Ligari (1713-1783)
The Guardian Angel, after 1743
Oil on canvas - 98 x 73 cm
Sondrio, Museo Valtellinese di
storia e arte.
Photo : M. de P.

In a more erratic manner, the painting of his son Cesare Ligari (1716-1770) is marked by Venetian examples of his contemporaries such as Pittoni, Piazetta and the early years of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. During the years he worked with his father, there are two versions of The Guardian Angel by each of them (ill. 5), Pietro’s more clearly defined, Cesare’s softer and more vaporous. The latter also produced large palas, showing his best work in the frescoes of great chromatic freshness, evoked in the Milan exhibition by a study on a secular subject (ill. 6).

With four works in the show, Vittoria Ligari (1713-1783), Cesare’s older sister, gains somewhat in stature after the secondary role to which she was relegated until the death of her father, that is supplying madonnas and workshop copies to occasional clients, a role typical of women painters at that time. Despite this status, she signed an altarpiece and a few medium-sized formats which reveal some talent.

6. Cesare Ligari (1713-1783)
Milan, Private Collection
Oil on canvas - 38 x 23 cm
Photo : Press

The retrospective was located in three different places. About forty paintings and drawings were shown at the Palace of the Credito Valtellinese in Milan, across from Santa Maria delle Grazie. At the Museo Diocesano, their works were juxtaposed with large formats by their contemporaries, thus recreating the artistic context of the times, along with little known paintings or which had been recently restored, several of which came from the Valtinella by Andrea Pozzo, Paolo Pagani, Abbiati, Il Gianolo, Pietro Antonio Maggatti… A complete study of their graphic works was presented in Sondrio. The exhibition was accompanied by only one catalogue which also reproduces the frescoes that make up a fair part of their activities [1]. Edited by Skira, the catalogue is as always of exceptional quality in the colours provided for the illustrations. For those art lovers who missed the event, or any of the three venues, this publication enables this brilliant dynasty of artists to regain the place they deserve in European Baroque and Rococo despite the out of the way and confidential location of the works.

I Ligari Pittori del settecento lombardo

Milano, Galleria Gruppo Credito Valtellinese, Palazzo delle Stelline, 12 April - 19 July 2008. Milano, Museo Diocesano, 12 April - 19 July 2008. Sondrio, Galleria Gruppo Credito Valtellinese, Palazzo Sertoli, 14 May – 19 July 2008.

Curators : Simonetta Coppa, Eugenia Bianchi (Milano), Angella Dell’Occa (Sondrio).

Catalogue : I Ligari Pittori del settecento lombardo, in Italian, Skira, Geneva-Milano 2008, 288 p., 29 €, ISBN : 978-88-6130-699-1. Version française

Michel de Piles, mercredi 23 juillet 2008


[1] There are illustrations of the cycles in Morgegno and Lanzana by Pietro Ligari, the frescoes in Domaso, Morbegno, Ponte in Valtellina and in Chiuro by Cesare. The catalogue is very complete but not a catalogue raisonne (for architectural activities, liturgical and agronomic decorations by Pietro Ligari, see earlier publications). Since Laura Melli Bessi’s publication in 1974 and the exhibition the Settecento Lombardo in 1991 in Milan, some signed paintings have reappeared on the art market and have been acquired by local institutions. They are presented in the exhibition (as well as in the catalogue).

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