Four years ago the catalogue on the graphic works of Francis Bacon, edited by Bruno Sabatier, was published in France (Francis Bacon. Oevre graphique – Graphic works – Catalogue raisonnè, Bruno Sabatier, Preface d’Eddy Batache, January 2012).
On the first pages it reads: “After a career as a lawyer specializing in intellectual property, when he dealt with several cases involving major artists, Bruno Sabatier, a former Art publisher and now a gallery owner, focuses almost exclusively in the work of Francis Bacon, whom he met for the firs time in 1976.”
It seems I am not the only lawyer who takes an interest in Francis Bacon’s art.
I have been professionally looking into his “Italian drawings” since 1997, fifteen years during which I studied his life and works.
I read the interviews he gave to David Sylvester, but also the ones he gave to others: Michel Leiris, Michael Archinbaud , Michael Peppiat, etc.
I watched the ones broadcasted by the BBC.
I talked to some of his closest friends and lovers.
I read and studied the catalogues of his exhibitions: those held while he was alive and those held after his death.
I read Peppiat’s, Farson’s and Russel’s biographies.
And much more.
All this did not turn me into an “art scholar” and I do not claim to become it.
However, this made me a lawyer well informed about Francis Bacon’s life and art.
With something more: I am a “scholar” in “criminal law” and I have dealt with, among other things, the history of criminal law, gaining familiarity with a method which is common to any field of knowledge.
Looking into it, even the logic behind legally proving a crime is the same driving the archaeologist and the historian, to the point that we usually talk about “reason’s ways” to indicate the “epistemological grounds” of knowledge being unique, especially after Karl Popper’s considerations.
As we know, only “faith” follows different criteria and this is the reason why that is a “completely different story”.
– The contamination of know-hows is essential to knowledge.
This is why I do not feel the least embarrassed about dealing with Francis Bacon’s sketches flooding into the field of art historians, going beyond what I have written and said so far about the reasons why it is clear that the drawings that are part of the Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino collection are by Francis Bacon who personally donated them to Mr. Ravarino, as it is unequivocally established by the donation act dated April 2nd 1988.
The donation took place in Italy and this is why we called them “the Italian drawings by Francis Bacon”.
But they are also “Italian drawings” for other and more profound reasons.
– Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino meets Francis Bacon for the first time in Rome during the party held by Balthus at Villa Medici when he was about to leave the city, after a long time spent there as cultural representative at the French Embassy.
The feeling between them is immediate, to the point that in the days that will follow, Cristiano will accompany Bacon during his Roman visit to the Caravaggio’s masterpieces, one of the few painters he loved, the only one known to this day not to have ever drawn but to have painted straight on canvas.
As Andrew Graham Dixon writes (Caravaggio “A sacred and profane life” Mondadori 2011, pg. 60) the examination of his oil paintings “with x-rays, shows that he did not even trace preparatory drawings on the canvas as a guide for the brush.”
He also kind of “boxed up” his figures in his paintings – as Graham Dixon writes – putting them inside environments where nature is excluded if not for the light (and the shadow) which obviously derives from it, and not even always!
Could these be the true reasons behind Francis Bacon’s interest for Caravaggio, not perfectly unveiled reasons as Anna Coliva writes in the essay opening the catalog of the exhibit “Caravaggio Bacon” which she curated together with Michael Peppiat in 2009 at Galleria Borghese in Rome (Caravaggio Bacon, published by Federico Motta 2009)?
– Beyond Caravaggio, Francis Bacon loved to confront himself with other important Italian painters.
Cimabue was the first, his Crucifix clearly inspired the triptych “Three Studies for a Crucifixion” from 1962, but also, his first “orange” triptych, “Three Studies at the Base of a Crucifixion” from 1944 that he will also paint in “red” in 1988.
It is known that Bacon kept a copy of the Crucifix of Arezzo by Cimabue in his study: he had it upside down because he saw there a genetic point for his art (as Michael Pepiatt said, it was “his armor, his pillar”).
Now we know, thanks to the perseverance of a Florentine fan of Francis Bacon, Maria Luisa Ugolotti, that Bacon went even further in his love: the day after the Florence flood in 1966 he made a considerable donation for the renovation of another Cimabue masterpiece dramatically damaged by the disaster: the Crucifix in Santa Croce.
Bacon particularly loved Michelangelo, for whom, as Luigi Ficacci writes, he had a true obsession (L. Ficacci, Francis Bacon and his obsession with Michelangelo, Mondadori Electa 2008 ).
– However, Bacon was also interested in other Italian artists.
Guercino, whom he had met in London thanks to Sir Danis Mahon, one of his biggest scholars.
Sir Mahon, in May 2010 in the London’s Tate Gallery cafeteria, while we were sipping tea, told me and the other people he had invited, that during one of his occasional meetings with the Irish artist, having noticed his interest, he suggested for him to visit the Pinacoteca in Cento, the hometown of Guercino, a few kilometers from Bologna, where many of his drawings are to be found.
Bacon went there accompanied by Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino.
Not only this: during one of his stays in Bologna, Cristiano accompanied him to visit the collection of Guercino’s drawings which the Rusconi Marquis and Marquess kept in a countryside villa, a collection of which Bacon knew the existence.
“Someone said to me: and what did he know about it? – says Cristiano – Indeed I did not know anything about that collection myself. The fact is that Francis was a very well-educated man and there had been the exhibit about Danis Mahon in London and there you could find the writing “Monte San Pietro – Calderino”. Here you see the connections there are which are grounded on his big knowledge and extraordinary memory”.
This is the reason why, due to the interest Bacon showed towards the “demonic drawings” by Guercino, in 2010 the Pinacoteca of Cento held the exhibition “Guercino Bacon – the drawings” curated by Vittorio Sgarbi and Antonello Trombadori, with the patronage of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage of the Italian Republic.
– Bacon obviously knew about Leonardo and his drawings, some of them permanently exhibited at the National Gallery in London.
As Edward Lucie Smith writes in his essay published inside the catalogue of the exhibition “Guercino Bacon” (published by Cristian Maretti 2010 on pg. 59): “There is nothing to be amazed about the fact that some drawings by Francis Bacon recently discovered take us back to the history of Italian caricature. Some of the drawings, as you may notice, are adaptations of Guercino’s drawings, some others can be linked to the so-called grotesque sketches by Leonardo and his apprentices; in one case, even to a famous drawing attributed to Francesco Melzi which in the past was often attributed to Leonardo. It is not a coincidence that many of Bacon’s most intimate friends were struck by the extent of his knowledge about the history of art.”
– Cimabue, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Caravaggio, Guercino.
But even other Italian painters influenced the works by Francis Bacon, in a less evident way but still a deep one.
Flavio Caroli, in a passage of his “History of Physiognomy. Art and Psychology from Leonardo to Freud” (Electa, 2012, pgg.56-57) writes “…It is time now we consider a piece of paper, a drawing made by a girl from Cremona, a little more than twenty years old, a drawing which has had a completely unforeseen and exceptional destiny. We are talking about the young boy bitten by a shrimp by Sofonisba Anguissola (1535 ca – 1625), made around 1555, which is the only human point of contact between the two immense Michelangelos who exchange the baton of painting, Michelangelo Buonarroti and Michelangelo from Caravaggio. Florentine Cyclops sees the sketch, he grasps the extraordinary innovative potentialities, so much that he starts exchanging letters with the father of Anguissola, who will have the audacity of asking him (him, Michelangelo) to have some of his drawings for the daughter to “color in”. It is almost certain that the unimaginable importance given to the gynaeceum of Cremonese lady painters from Vasari is to be linked to the protection accorded by Michelangelo. As for Caravaggio, it is simple: during his first Roman years he will recapture the invention of the Lombard painter. What is it that makes this intuition so incredibly meaningful? The fact that, for the first time in the history of painting, what is portrayed is the instant (and only that instant) when a sharp physical pain is conveyed to the visage. In other words, the fact that you can foresee the figurative matrix which will lead to Expressionism. And as a consequence, here is the renowned young boy bitten by a lizard (fig.23) by Caravaggio (1571-1610), the Caronte of painting between 1500 and 1600. A horror impulse, a screaming Anguissola mouth: all this in a luministic placenta now realistically true and existing. Painting is marching towards the truth, towards an inseparable complexity of external realities and psychological ones. The Leonardesque soul movements are dissolved in the atmosphere. From here, it will be possible to proceed following the rationality way (as will happen in the 1600s), or following the vertigo pathway (as will happen during Romanticism). But if we claim that the famous screaming mouth, symbol of the Potëmkin battleship by Ejzenštejn, the matrix of Francis Bacon’s screaming mouths, starts to be defined more precisely in the Western visual thinking , with Caravaggio’s intuition, we can probably identify the main route which leads to the central theme of modern art.”
This is why the drawings that Francis Bacon gifted to Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino can be considered Italian: not only because they were mostly made in Italy, on Fabriano paper and donated to his Italian lover; but also – and maybe above all – because Francis Bacon always took a big interest, at times an obsessive interest, into the big Masters of Italian Painting from the Renaissance and the following centuries.
– There is no doubt that Diego Velasquez was a Spanish painter.
Can the same be said about Pope Innocent X’s portrait he realized in 1650, commissioned by the Pope himself, whose real name was Giambattista Panphilj, and from then on kept in his palace to be part of the collection he had started which would later become the Galleria Doria Panphilj?
I have no knowledge to answer this question.
What is certain is that Francis Bacon often visited Rome and even though in the famous interviews to David Sylvester he states that he depicted “A study from Innocent X’s portrait” in 1953 only by looking at the photograph he kept in his studio, it is legitimate that we ask ourselves if later on, maybe even after having met Cristiano, he did not visit Galleria Doria Panphilj where beyond Innocent X’s portrait by Velasquez we can also find “Rest during the escape to Egypt” by Caravaggio.
We know that Francis Bacon depicted at least 45 paintings of Innocent X and many of them are the pencil drawings and the pastel collages he made between 1977 and 1992 which are derived from the Innocent X’s portrait from the Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino collection.
Edward Lucie Smith, the art historian who more than any other has studied and understood the “Italian drawings by Francis Bacon”, states that “the drawings on Crucifixion from the Ravarino collection are deeply influenced by the late drawings of Michelangelo, related to the same theme. Cristiano Ravarino explains this by saying that it expresses Bacon’s frustrated ambition, who was late at this time in his career to start being a sculptor. According to him, it seems that these drawings have symbolized a kind of excerpt of shapes on paper sheets, without the difficulties introduced by color. The drawings about the Popes seem to have a different purpose. They represent the fact of pondering about a late regret in respect to a theme which the artist thinks he could now better represent. In this case I think it is important to notice the straight lines with which Bacon defines his figures. Visually speaking, they have a much more rational and easier impact , compared to the perimeters where he has often forced the images of his Popes.” (Edward Lucie-Smith: Francis Bacon and the art of drawing, in The tip of the Iceberg –Francis Bacon’s drawings , 2009 Maretti Publisher)
Can we say they are “Italian drawings” for this reason too?
The suggestion to answer in an affirmative way is very strong, and because I am not an art scholar, I can do this!