These two oil bozzetti on card, the only ones currently known by the artist in this medium, reappeared with the sale of the Château d’Hauteville at Saint-Légier-La Chiésaz in Switzerland. They form a significant addition to the oeuvre of Giuseppe Antonio Petrini, both daring from the same moment and documenting the Ticinese painter's activity in the Canton of Vaud. The works are preparatory sketches for ceiling decoration commissioned by the d’Herwarth family for their residence in the Place du Marché in Vevey.
When these bozzetti were exhibited at the Galleria Canesso in Lugano soon after their rediscovery, Manuela Kahn-Rossi's research (1) enabled her to find a glass photographic plate dating from before 1896 (Vevey, Musée Historique) revealing a painted ceiling – unfortunately destroyed in 1896, together with the house in the Place di Marché – of which the central image is based on our Study for a Female Allegory. The decoration also consisted of vases of flowers in the corners. As regards the Study for a Male Allegory, no evidence of the same kind has been found thus far, even if it appears fairly obvious that it belongs to the same iconographical programme.
Manuela Kahn-Rossi's research also had the merit of reviving the name of the d’Herwarth family, powerful Huguenots originally from southern Bavaria who became rich bankers.
Their success brought them to France and later England, where they took refuge after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. From there Philibert d’Herwarth (1644-1721) was sent as envoy to Switzerland for diplomatic missions, initially in Geneva and then Bern, before settling in Vevey, where he purchased property in the le Place du Marché; some years later, in 1734, his son Jacques-Philippe acquired the Barony of Saint-Légier and La Chiésaz, and the seigneurie of d’Hauteville, demonstrating the family's expansion through property investments.
At which point in Petrini's career can we place his sojourn in the Vaud? To cite from the same piece of scholarship, the ceiling decoration could have been painted shortly after 1726, when the artist was about fifty. Such a hypothesis would be supported, according to Manuela Kahn-Rossi, by biographical data regarding the d’Herwarth family: Jacques-Philippe d’Herwarth (1706-1764) married Johanna Esther Dünz (1706-1779) in 1727. Indeed, the iconography could well refer to the glorification of these patrons and more specifically to their union. There are scarcely any attributes that would help us identify the painted figures, though the male character grasps a palm frond, a symbol of victory or renown (according to Guy de Tervarent and other works of iconographical reference), while the arrow held by one of the putti could suggest Jacques-Philippe's skill at archery. The female figure surrounded by putti could suggest a Venus on Mount Olympus.
The composition is conveyed through a sober, spare language, with brilliant and colourful figures, typical of Petrini's style and the Lombard barocchetto. The attribution of these bozzetti – and of the destroyed mural – to Giuseppe Antonio Petrini is strengthened by an analysis of style and comparison with other works of his. Even at a distance of some years, Petrini often reused the same models and the same stylistic features, assembling them in a different way on each occasion. These two sketches are a perfect example of this, particularly with respect to the putti, who reappear in various works by the artist, notably in the fresco of Dawn in the Palazzo Riva di Santa Margherita in Lugano, for which the reader is referred to the Lugano exhibition catalogue.
An unknown area of Giuseppe Antonio Petrini's activity has been revealed, and we hope that future research will cast new light on our knowledge of this Ticinese artist.
1. See Manuela Kahn-Rossi, "Un potenziale nascosto: la famiglia d’Herwarth, l’universo di Petrini e le premesse di una committenza europea in terra vodese", in Petrini ritrovati, exhibition catalogue, Galleria Canesso, Lugano, 2016, pp. 45-67.
Probably the property of the d’Herwarth family until 1760: preparatory studies for the decoration of their residence in the Place du Marché in Vevey; in that year the Château was sold to the Cannac family, and passed by descent to the Grand d’Hauteville family; Château d’Hauteville, Saint-Légier-La Chiésaz, Switzerland, to 2015: Geneva, Hôtel des Ventes Bernard Piguet, 11-12 September 2015, lot 352, as 18th-century Italian School.
- Chiara Naldi, in Petrini ritrovati, exhibition catalogue, Galleria Canesso, Lugano, 2016, pp. 18-23;
- Manuela Kahn-Rossi, "Un potenziale nascosto: la famiglia d’Herwarth, l’universo di Petrini e le premesse di una committenza europea in terra vodese", in Petrini ritrovati, exhibition catalogue, Galleria Canesso, Lugano, 2016, pp. 53-55;
- Alessandro Morandotti, "Petrini a Vevey", in Petrini ritrovati, exhibition catalogue, Galleria Canesso, Lugano, 2016, p. 11.