Domenico Morelli (1823-1901)

Born in Naples on 8 July 1823, he was first apprenticed to the painter Ruocco and then attended the Institute of Fine Arts, where his teachers were Costanzo Angelini and Camillo Guerra.
Academic teaching, however, did not exclude him from a certain interest in reality, to which the youngest artist were attracted.
Thus, in a school essay, he too tried to follow the path already taken by Filippo Palizzi (Vasto 1818 – Naples 1899).
It was the first time I had ardently endeavoured to study from life, harmonising the light and the colour of the background with the figure….. The memory of the studies set out by Filippo Palizzi warned us that, in order for us too to be able to do them, it was necessary to take a different path“.
During the uprisings of 1948 he took part in the revolutionary actions on the barricades, was wounded and narrowly escaped being shot.
Returning to art, after a series of works in which the memory of the Academy is still alive, although mitigated by the romanticism of the subjects, he had his first success with Gli Iconoclasti (1854) which was well received at the 1855 Neapolitan Exhibition, both by the academic current and by the young innovators.
Persuaded, however, that his work had not made a real contribution to renewal, he tried to approach the most modern currents of art and travelled extensively in Italy and Europe.
In Paris, he had a clearer feeling that he had to get rid of his ways completely: ‘I beg you…to clean my studio well,’ he asked his friends in Naples, ‘to burn all the papers you have drawn and painted…I don’t want to find anything that reminds me of my past manner‘.
In this anxiety for renewal, however, he never failed in his principle that attributes to art the office of “representing figures and things not seen, but imagined and true at the same time“: a statement that is linked to Romantic poetics and that requires academic training in those who take it as the basis of their work.
With maturity, his painting becomes more refined in its means and dissolves into greater spontaneity.
It has rightly been noted that his painting can be included in ‘a sort of romantic-religious dramaturgy‘, while the place he occupies in the history of our 19th century art is ‘next to the 19th century opera composers’ (Somaré).
Nevertheless, he was sincere in his desire to renew art, and he succeeded in awakening the Neapolitan environment to modernity, which he felt was a recreation of truth by force of imagination: a position which, if on the one hand did not completely free him from academicism, on the other hand succeeded in removing him from the crude realism that raged in the second half of the 19th century.
He died in Naples on 13 August 1901.