Alessandro Magnasco

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Alessandro Magnasco
Born(1667-02-04)February 4, 1667
DiedMarch 12, 1749(1749-03-12) (aged 82)
EducationValerio Castello, Filippo Abbiati
Known forPainting

Alessandro Magnasco (February 4, 1667 – March 12, 1749), also known as il Lissandrino, was an Italian late-Baroque painter active mostly in Milan and Genoa. He is best known for stylized, fantastic, often phantasmagoric genre or landscape scenes. Magnasco's distinctive style is characterized by fragmented forms rendered with swift brushstrokes and darting flashes of light.[1]


Born in Genoa to a minor artist, Stefano Magnasco, he apprenticed with Valerio Castello, and finally with Filippo Abbiati (1640–1715) in Milan. Except for 1703–09 (or 1709–11)[2] when working in Florence for the Grand Duke Cosimo III, Magnasco labored in Milan until 1735, when he returned to his native Genoa. Magnasco often collaborated with placing figures in the landscapes of Tavella and the ruins of Clemente Spera in Milan.

Mature style[edit]

Joseph Interpreting Dreams

After 1710, Magnasco excelled in producing small, hypochromatic canvases with eerie and gloomy landscapes and ruins, or crowded interiors peopled with small, often lambent and cartoonishly elongated characters. The people in his paintings were often nearly liquefacted beggars dressed in tatters, rendered in flickering, nervous brushstrokes. Often they deal with unusual subjects such as synagogue services, Quaker meetings, robbers' gatherings, catastrophes, and interrogations by the Inquisition. His sentiments regarding these subjects are generally unclear.[2]

A century later he would be described as a "romantic painter: who painted with candid touches, and ingenious expressiveness, little figures in Gothic churches; or in solitude, hermits and monks; or scoundrels assembled in town squares; soldiers in barracks".[3] The art historian and critic Luigi Lanzi described him as the Cerquozzi of his school; thereby signaling him into the circle of followers of the Bamboccianti. He indicates that Magnasco had "figures scarcely more than a span large ... painted with humor and delight", but not as if this effect had been the intention of the painter. Lanzi says these eccentric pieces were favored by the Grand Duke Giovanni Gastone Medici of Florence.[4] Magnasco also found contemporary patronage for his work among prominent families and collectors of Milan, for example the Arese and Casnedi families.[5] This series of patrons underscores the fact that Magnasco was more esteemed by outsiders than by his fellow Genoese; as Lanzi noted, "his bold touch, though joined to a noble conception and to correct drawing, did not attract in Genoa, because it is far removed from the finish and union of tints which (Genoese) masters followed."[6] In the twentieth century, Rudolf Wittkower derided him as "solitary, tense, strange, mystic, ecstatic, grotesque, and out of touch with the triumphal course of the Venetian school" from 1710 onward.[2]

Origins of his style[edit]

Hermit in the Desert

The influences on his work are obscure. Some suspect the influence of the loose painterly style of his Venetian contemporary Sebastiano Ricci (1659–1734), the Genoese Domenico Piola (1627–1703) and Gregorio de Ferrari, although the most prominent of the three, Ricci, painted in a more monumental and mythic style, and these artists may in fact have been influenced by Magnasco. Magnasco was likely influenced by Milanese il Morazzone (1573–1626) in the emotional quality of his work. Some of his canvases (see ill. (q.)) recall Salvator Rosa's romantic sea-lashed landscapes, and his affinity for paintings of brigands. The diminutive scale of Magnasco's figures relative to the landscape is comparable to Claude Lorraine's more airy depictions. While his use of figures of ragged beggars has been compared with Giuseppe Maria Crespi's genre style, Crespi's figures are larger, more distinct, and individual, and it is possible that Crespi himself may have influenced Magnasco. Others point to the influences of late Baroque Italian genre painters, the Roman Bamboccianti, and in his exotic scenography, the well-disseminated engravings of the Frenchman Callot.


Magnasco's work may have influenced Marco Ricci, Giuseppe Bazzani, Francesco Maffei, and the famed painters de tocco (by touch) Gianantonio and Francesco Guardi in Venice.

His depictions of torture in The Inquisition (or perhaps named Interrogations in a Jail) are an atypical subject for Italian baroque paintings, as were his depictions of the religious ceremonies of Jews and Quakers. Yet it remains unsolved, according to Wittkower, "how much quietism or criticism or farce went into the making of his pictures".[7]

Selected works[edit]

Painting Dates Site Link
Gathering of Quakers 1695 Uffizi, Florence
Theodosius Repulsed from Church by St. Ambrose 1700-10 Art Institute of Chicago
Christ attended by angels c. 1705 Museo del Prado, Madrid [1]
Christ and Samaritan Woman 1705-10 Getty Museum, Los Angeles [2]
Noli Me Tangere 1705-10 ibid [3]
The Hunting Scene 1710 Wadsworth Atheneum
Muletrain and Castle 1710 Louvre [4]
Bacchanalian Scene 1710s Hermitage Museum [5]
Halt of the Brigands 1710s ibid [6]
Landscape with Washerwomen 1710-20 University of Michigan Museum of Art [7]
The Inquisition or Interrogations in a Jail 1710-20 Kunsthistorisches Museum [8]
The Temptation of Saint Anthony 1710-20 Louvre [9]
Landscape with Shepherds c. 1710-30 São Paulo Museum of Art, São Paulo [10]
Pulcinella singing with Family and Lute Player 1710-35 Columbia Museum of Art, South Carolina [11]
Three Camaldolite Monks at Prayer 1713-14 Rijksmuseum [12]
Three Capuchin Friars Meditating in their Hermitage 1713-14 ibid [13]
Christ Adored by Two Nuns c. 1715 Accademia [14]
The Sack of a City 1719-25 Brukenthal National Museum, Abbey of Seitenstetten, Sibiu
Satire of Nobleman in Misery 1719-25 Detroit Institute of Arts [15]
The painter's workshop c. 1720 Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid [16]
Bacchanale 1720-30 The Getty Center in Los Angeles [17]
Triumph of Venus 1720-30 ibid [18]
Interior with Monks 1725 Norton Simon Museum [19]
Gamblers, Soldiers and Vagabonds 1720-30 Staatsgalerie Stuttgart [20]
Supper of Pulcinella & Colombina 1725-30 North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh [21]
The Synagogue 1725-30 Cleveland Museum of Art
Consecration of a Franciscan Friar c. 1730 El Paso Museum of Art, Texas [22]
Burial of a Franciscan Friar c. 1730 El Paso Museum of Art [23]
Monks chapter 1730-1740 Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid [24]
Sacrilegious Robbery 1731 intended for church of Siziano, now in Quadreria Arcivescovile, Milan [25]
Exorcism of the Waves after 1735 Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, New York [26]
Landscape with Travelers 1735-1740 New Orleans Museum of Art
The Observant Friars in the Refectory 1736-37 Museo Civico di Bassano del Grappa [27]
Figures Before a Stormy Sea ca. 1740 Honolulu Museum of Art
The Entrance to a Hospital Muzeul des Arta, Bucharest
Landscape with Camaldolese friars

Museo Giannetino Luxora, Genoa

The Marriage Banquet Louvre
Praying Monks Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent [29]
Reception in a Garden Palazzo Bianco, Genoa
Seashore Hermitage Museum [30]
Supper at Emmaus Convent S. Francesco in Albaro, Genoa
The Tame Magpie Metropolitan Museum [31]
Two Hermits in Forest Louvre [32]
A Hermit in the Desert Lázaro Galdiano Museum, Madrid [33]
Untitled [34]


  1. ^ Alessandro Magnasco, called il Lissandrino (Genoa 1667-1749), Saint Joseph's dream at Christie's
  2. ^ a b c Wittkower 1993, p. 478
  3. ^ Dizionario geografico-storico-statistico-commerciale degli stati del Re di Sardegna, Volume 7, by Goffredo Casalis, Turin (1840), page 726: "potrebbe chiamarsi pittore romantico: dipingeva a tocchi franchi, e con isprezzatura ingegnosa, figure piccole in chiese d'architettura gotica, o in solitudini, romiti, cappuccini; ovvero mariuoli sulle piazze, soldati ne’quartieri".
  4. ^ Lanzi, Luigi (1847). History of Painting in Italy; From the Period of the Revival of the Fine Arts to the End of the Eighteenth Century. Vol. III. Translated by Thomas Roscoe. London: Henry G. Bohn. p. 287.
  5. ^ Spike 1986, p. 87.
  6. ^ Lanzi, p. 287.
  7. ^ Wittkower, 1993, p. 478


  • Raffaello Soprani, Carlo Giuseppe Ratti (a cura di), Vite de Pittori, Scultori ed Architetti Genovesi; In questa seconda Edizione rivedute, accresciute ed arricchite di note da Carlo Giuseppe Ratti Tomo Primo, Stamperia Casamara, dalle Cinque Lampadi, con licenza de superiori, Genova, 1769. Pagine 155-164
  • Herman Voss, A Re-discovered Picture by Alessandro Magnasco, in The Burlington Magazine, LXXI, pp. 171–177. London 1937
  • A Loan Exhibition of Paintings by Alessandro Magnasco, exhibition catalogue, Durlacher Bros, New York
  • Golden Gate International Exhibition, California Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, 1940
  • Maria Pospisil, Magnasco. Firenze 1944
  • Benno Geiger, Magnasco. Bergamo 1949
  • Antonio Morassi, Mostra del Magnasco, exhibition catalogue, Bergamo 1949
  • Renato Roli, Alessandro Magnasco, Milano 1964
  • V.Magnoni, Alessandro Magnasco, Roma 1965
  • Alessandro Magnasco, exhibition catalogue, Louisville-Ann Arbor, 1967
  • Fausta Franchini Guelfi, Alessandro Magnasco. Genova 1977
  • Spike, John T. (1986). Centro Di (ed.). Giuseppe Maria Crespi and the Emergence of Genre Painting in Italy. p. 87.
  • Fausta Franchini Guelfi, Alessandro Magnasco. Soncino (Cr) 1991
  • Wittkower, Rudolf (1993). Art and Architecture Italy, 1600-1750. Penguin Books, Pelican History of Art. p. 478.
  • L.Muti - D. De Sarno Prignano, Magnasco. Faenza 1994
  • Alessandro Magnasco 1667-1749. Exhibition catalogue. Milano 1996
  • C. Geddo, Alessandro Magnasco: una fortuna critica senza confini, ibidem, pp. 39–50
  • Jane Turner (a cura di), The Dictionary of Art. 20, pp. 95–96. New York, Grove, 1996. ISBN 1-884446-00-0

External links[edit]

Media related to Alessandro Magnasco at Wikimedia Commons