29 x 21 cm. (11 7/16 x 8 ¼ in.)
Pen and iron gall ink
Signed lower edge, right of center: Sabatelli Luigi Figlio
Born in Milan in 1818, young Sabatelli bore the same name as his father Luigi Sabatelli, called “the Elder” and considered a precursor of Romanticism in the early 19th century. As opposed to his father, we have very few biographical elements concerning the son. The youngest, he seems to have been a better student than his two brothers Francesco and Giuseppe in his handling of a pencil, as he was chosen from a very early age to work with his father. His precocious training made it possible for him to improve and rapidly become his father’s closest collaborator.
Among the official commissions received by Sabatelli the Elder, the young artist put his gifts to use in fresco painting, of which today a few examples can be found now in Milanese churches. His oeuvre essentially seems to involve the depiction of Biblical episodes in response to Church commissions.
At the dawn of the 19th century, Luigi Sabatelli the Elder was considered as a precursor to Romanticism in Italy. In his tendancy to express feelings on a flat surface, he was naturally interested in studying wild animals (ill. 1), as well as horses. He transmitted this interest to his son, and our sheet of drawings is a terrific example. Sometimes wild, sometimes tame, the horse is a subject which was especially appreciated throughout the 19th century. Between fiery spirits, wrenching separations, and vitality, the animal incarnates the expression of human feelings. Probably inspired by the work of contemporaries such as Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) (ill. 2), Sabatelli the Younger found the necessary vocabulary for rendering emotions by studying horses.
Our drawing illustrates the artist’s creative thought process. On a sheet of beige paper, Sabatelli traces a few horse studies in ink. Probably sketched from life, he reproduces the animal’s anatomical particularities with great acuity. The musculature is rendered through skillful play with hatching, the figures are outlined with a more emphasized line in brown and iron gall ink, formerly used by his Italian predecessors from the 16th and 17th centuries. The work includes two studies of heads, a study of a muzzle, two studies of legs, as well as a study of a horse seen from behind, and thus demonstrates the artist’s ability to render foreshortened figures.
In the course of the 19th century, midst this intellectual effervescence caught between industrial progress and animal power, European societies witnessed the development of a real equestrian culture. In addition to aesthetic criteria, the horse had remained the favored means of transportation since Antiquity, thus it was necessary for any history painter to know how to depict it. Sabatelli does not escape from this exercise and takes advantage of many studies which he integrated into his frescoes.
A little known artist forgotten by Art History, Luigi Sabatelli the Younger was nonetheless very appreciated for the frescoes which he realized for many churches between Milan and a few other Northern Italian cities. The quality of our sheet is a reminder that before becoming a fresco painter, the artist was an excellent draughtsman who is worthy of all our attention.