Sketchbooks of Ippolito Caffi


November 2017: Venice in Peril has adopted a set of sketchbooks by Ippolito Caffi (1809-1866) last of the great Venetian view painters in the tradition of Canaletto, Guardi and Bellotto. Born in the mountain town of Belluno, Caffi trained at Venice’s Accademia di Belle Arti before moving to Rome, where he worked as a theatrical scene painter. Returning to Venice, he quickly made his reputation with prospects of the city which brilliantly captured its differing moods and changing light effects. Soon he could afford to travel further afield and set off for Naples to sail to Malta and Constantinople, visiting Athens en route. Trips to Alexandria and a journey down the Nile were followed by a tour of the Holy Land. Caffi’s alert gaze registered memorable images of all these places, but he was eventually drawn homewards to Italy, then preparing to revolt against its despotic rulers in the cause of national unity.
In 1848 Caffi joined a regiment in his native Belluno to fight the Austrian forces struggling to regain control of the Veneto. Taken prisoner, he managed to escape to Venice, where he got married and took part in the city’s heroic resistance to the Austrian siege. When the revolutionary government at last surrendered, his name was mistakenly added to a list of exiles and he spent ten years living in Genoa, Paris and Madrid. Many of Caffi’s paintings from this period are tinged with a restless romanticism, their brushwork growing distinctly impressionistic. Finally, after being allowed to return to Venice, he joined the Italian navy in the 1866 war against Austria but was drowned when his ship was sunk during the Battle of Lissa in the Adriatic.
Caffi’s works were showcased in a memorable recent exhibition at Museo Correr. Now Venice’s Fondazione Musei Civici is undertaking the repair of 20 sketchbooks presented to the city in 1889 by his widow Virginia Missana. These are an enchanting mixture of watercolours, pen and wash drawings and pencil sketches, many of them made during the 1849 siege of Venice, mostly of human figures rather than buildings or townscapes, and often accompanied by the artist’s wrily humorous comments. There are also glorious watercolour studies of plants and memories of the exotic characters he met on his Oriental journeys.
The treatment of these sketchbooks, totalling 1350 pages, will include work to the covers, bindings and stitching as well as paper conservation, full documentation and provision of protective storage. It is planned to show the sketchbooks in digital form as part of the Ippolito Caffi permanent display in the last room of the Royal Apartments in the Procuratie Vecchie.
The whole project celebrates an outstanding Venetian artist, too little known in Britain, and Venice in Peril is delighted to be involved with this enterprise.
Conservation of the Caffi Sketchbooks is costed at £16,500
Please email us or telephone +44 (0) 20 7736 6891 if you would like to donate to this project or donate online here.

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