Pietro del Po

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Apotheosis of the Virgin by Pietro del Po, Toledo Cathedral

Pietro del Po (1616 – 22 July 1692) was an Italian painter of the Baroque.

He was born in Palermo, and studied under Domenichino at Naples. He painted for the churches at Palermo, and afterwards visited Rome, where among other works, he painted a picture of St. Leo, for La Madonna di Costantinopoli. He was more distinguished as an engraver than as a painter. His daughter, Teresa del Po, was also an engraver and painter. He died in Naples.

Pietro was born in Palermo in 1616, the son of Francesco Jacopo and Francesca lo Po. He began to draw at a very early age and later began to paint under the guidance of an unknown master. He married Maria Monforti on 12 July 1637 in the parish of Santa Croce in Palermo. In 1644 he moved to Naples, perhaps inspired by the need for a more stimulating environment. Naples was in fact a lively artistic center, dominated by the presence of such artists as Jusepe de Ribera, Domenichino and Giovanni Lanfranco; the latter artists had come from Rome. It was indeed this classicist style that provided an interest for Del Po. The sources indicate that he was a student of Domenichino, but direct contact with the Bolognese artist is now disputed. Rather, it seems probable that he studied with Lanfranco between 1644 and 1646. During those same years he came into contact with artists such as Ribera, Francesco Vaccaro, Massimo Stanzione, and Charles Mellin.

This period was of particular artistic importance and was furthermore punctuated by significant events in the artist’s private and family life. His second marriage, to the widow Maffei, Porzia Campagna (or Compagna) resulted in the birth of his daughter Teresa in 1646, who was baptized on December 23 in the parish of San Giuseppe.

The following year Pietro and his family moved to Rome in order to be near Lanfranco, who had just returned to the capital and for whom Del Po had become “his most useful assistant”.

Between 1651 and 1652 Del Po lived on Via Margutta, the artists' quarter, where he met Jean Dughet, for whom he produced several etchings after subjects by Nicholas Poussin. In fact, it seems that Poussin assigned to Doughet the task of reproducing his paintings in etchings, and later dedicated them to his most important patrons. De Domenici believed that Pietro del Po knew Poussin personally.

In 1652 Pietro became a member of the Academy of St. Luke, where he was a lecturer in anatomy and perspective. After the death of Orfeo Borselli, who was elected president in 1668, he was nominated vice president. In 1652 he was admitted to the Accademia dei Virtuosi, and in the same year or, according to some scholars, in 1654, his son Giacomo was born. Giacomo also became a famous painter and together with his sister Teresa, a member of the Academy of St. Luke. A. Bertolotti published an undated document belonging certainly to Del Po’s Roman period, which represents Del Po’s plea to the governor of Rome to absolve him of the accusations of cannibalism and silver theft from the church of Saint Peter's Basilica. These accusations were made by his creditors and damaged his reputation and his business.

According to Pascoli, Pietro succeeded in the Roman artistic environment, primarily because of the esteem and patronage of several influential Spaniards, including the ambassador, who recommended Del Po to his successor when he returned to Spain.

The Virgin Adored by the Regents of Spain

In March 1683 the painter and his family returned to Naples and remained there until Pietro’s death on 22 July 1692, with the exception of a brief stay in Palermo. The artistic production of Pietro del Po was probably vast, but it is difficult today for us to compile his catalogue. The sources mention numerous works without, however, supplying further information. Perez Sanchez attempted an initial catalogue, which remains the primary source for the artist. Sixteen small paintings on copper illustrating scenes from the life of the Virgin, now in the cathedral of Toledo, are among his most notable works. Two paintings, “Saint Leocadia” and “Saint Ildelfonso” and a third entitled “The Virgin Adored by the Regents of Spain with Saints Michael and Santiago” are also in the cathedral of Toledo. However, the painting most frequently mentioned in the sources, “Saint Leo,” executed for the church of Santa Maria di Constantinopoli in Rome, where it remained until 1700, is now lost.

The works that Del Po produced in Naples include twelve paintings with the scene from the Passion of Christ and several frescoes, now destroyed, representing the Resurrection, Pentecost, and Assumption, all painted for the church of Santa Barbara in Castel Nuovo. Pietro painted primarily religious subjects, and less frequently, profane historical and mythological themes. His compositions and his female figure types reveal the influence of Domenichino’s classicism and of Bolognese art, and the influence of Charles Mellin, with whom Del Po was in close contact, has been recently noted. Scholars point out Pietro’s precise and detailed ability as a draftsman more often than his ability as a colorist, and in fact he appears to have remained tied to his early classical training without responding to the new trends in the Roman Baroque.

He perhaps attained his most original results as a draftsman, but his activity in this field is difficult to define. It seems that Pietro considered drawing an independent art and not merely a preliminary stage for etchings. However, only after the many anonymous drawings and those dubiously attributed to Domenichino and others in the circle have been correctly attributed, will it be possible to assess his skill in this area.

Del Po is best known as an etcher who reproduced the paintings of the most important seventeenth-century artists. His choice of subjects reveals a preference for classical themes, and he reproduced primarily the works of Domenichino, Nicholas Poussin, Lanfranco and the Carracci. In addition, requests for his etchings came from abroad, as evidenced by several prints published in Paris by Bertrand and Coypel. Led by Bartsch, most scholars discuss Del Po’s work favourably and point out his talent as a draftsman.

Although the artist often retouched selected details of his etchings with burin, the different states do not reveal outstanding variations, and often the only changed are made by the publishers who added their addresses, dedications, or other modifications to the plates.

Among his prints are:

  • St. John in the Wilderness after Annibale Carracci
  • The Lamentation of the Virgin with two Angels after Annibale Carracci
  • The Birth of the Virgin
  • The Nativity
  • The Adoration of the Shepherds
  • The Presentation in the Temple
  • The Baptism of Christ
  • The Crown of Thorns
  • The Lamentation of the Virgin and St John
  • Noli Me Tangere
  • St Andrew
  • The Benedict Praying in the Desert
  • The Virgin Appearing to St Frances of Rome
  • Woman of Canaan before Christ after the same.
  • Virgin seated on a Throne with the Infant, and a choir of Angels after Domenichino.
  • The four Cardinal Virtues, with their attributes after the same.
  • St. Jerome kneeling with an Angel after the same.
  • The Annunciation after Nicolas Poussin.
  • The Flight into Egypt after the same.

Scholarship on Del Po[edit]

The artistic personality of Pietro Del Po has been defined only partially by the research of U. Prota-Giurleo and A. Perez Sanchez. These two scholars clarified and corrected the general and often imprecise scholarship of De Dominici and Pascoli.

References[edit]

  • The Illustrated Bartsch, 45 Commentary (Le Peintre-Graveur 20 [Part 2]), Italian Masters of the Seventeenth Century, Edited by Paolo Bellini and Richard W. Wallace, (Texts for P. Del Po and T. Del Po compiled by Donata Minonzio, Texts for G. Gimignani, C. Rainaldi, G. Dughet, and B. Manini compiled by Angelo Ottolini), ABARIS BOOKS A Woodner Foundation Company, 4510 Pietro Del Po – pages 229-230.