France, Private Collection.
Born in Venice, his father a gondolier, Domenicao Fedeli always appears in documents under his nickname Maggiotto. At the age of ten years, he entered Giovanni Battista Piazzetta’s studio and stayed there until the death of the famous painter in 1754, first as his apprentice, and then as a close collaborator. In 1750, Maggiotto was received into the painters’ guild in Venice and the following year, became a member of the Collegio dei pittori where he held various administrative posts: Prior, Syndic, and finally President. Piazzetta readily associated him in the execution of his commissions, undoubtedly more than he did his other students, and more and more regularly at the end of his life. After his master’s disappearance in 1754, Maggiotto was the one who finished the altarpiece for the San Salvador Church which he signed “Quod Jo Batta Piazéta pingebat Sun Majotto reverenter.”
Established independently from then on, Maggiotto seems to have initially attempted a career in Germany, but in the end never left Venice. In order to be closer to his family, he settled in the parish of San Giovanni in Bragora. He painted the altar of the Virgin in Glory (lost) for the parish church. In 1756, he entered the Academy of Painting and Sculpture created six years earlier and directed by Tiepolo. Very involved in the life of the Academy, especially after Tiepolo’s departure for Milan, Maggiotto assumed responsibility for various inspections, expert opinions, and restoration of old paintings, in addition to teaching.
Maggiotto was profoundly marked by Piazzetta’s spirit whose techniques and methods he perfectly mastered, and whose thematic repertory he reworked, sometimes from the same model and inspired by his professor’s compositions even after the latter’s death. His works were regularly confused with Piazzetta’s or those of Maggiotto’s son and student, Francesco, until recent research made it possible at last to isolate the artistic figure of Domenico midst the abundant production of 18th century Venice. Reconstituted from a dozen signed or documented paintings, his autograph corpus today includes about fifty paintings, as well as drawings where Maggiotto’s personality is revealed to his credit.
One generally divides the artist’s career into three periods. The first, from about 1740 to 1754, is characterized by unfailing attachment to his master’s vocabulary and conscientious application that did not lack a certain delicacy, which seems to have been Maggiotto’s own. In about 1745, he painted his first masterpiece, Young Man with a Flute, where Piazzetta’s teaching is tempered by a more drawn out brushstroke and more pronounced chiaroscuro. The second period, from 1755 to about 1765, was one of dedication, official recognition, and numerous solicitations for church altarpieces, portraits, as well as and above all, genre scenes and imaginary figures. His master’s death marked a profound turning point in Maggiotto’s art which seems, at the age of forty-two years, to have finally liberated him from Piazzetta’s grip, both artistically and spiritually. The artist who wished to pull away from his professor’s formulae, was seduced first by the academic perfection and aesthetic of Tiepolo, and then by 17th century Dutch painting with Rembrandt, Vermeer, Baburen, and Van Honthorst, whose works he knew from engravings. This eclectic style became more refined with age when, painting very little because taken by his academic duties, he enjoyed returning to themes from his childhood.
Although our drawing perpetuates the tradition made famous by Piazzetta of tightly framed portrait busts with one hand visible, it belongs to the second period of Maggiotto’s career, which was the most fecund when his “chiara e luminosa” manner asserted itself, to use the painter Alessandro Longhi’s phrase. (Compendio delle vite de’ pittori veneziani istorici più renomati del presente secolo, Venice, 1762, p. 19).
In the same period, he provided the engraver Joseph Wagner drawings for a series of four sheets which presented striking similarities with our work. Of course, the composition and technique still owe much to Piazzetta, but the handling is very different. As is true of his other drawings, Maggiotto seeks to transcribe air as well as light, substance as much as forms, feeling as much as attitude. He uses stump a lot or, as in our work, black chalk wash, to soften curves and smooth out passages between the lit parts and those plunged in shadow. He rhapsodizes over the fur lining of the cape, curly hair, curved nose, the sparkle of the gaze, the sensuality of half open lips. More than his master, Maggiotto seems, in his fantasy figures, to wish to tell a story, give them a moralizing meaning as is attested in the titles in Wagner’s engravings.
Maria Agnese CHIARI MORETTO WIEL (dir.), L’eredità di Piazzetta. Volti e figure nell’incisione del Settecento,exhibition catalogue, Venice, 1996.
Ettore MERKEL, « Domenico Fedeli detto il Maggiotto », dans Giambattista Piazzetta. Il suo tempo, la sua scuola, exhibition catalogue, Venice, 1983, pp. 153-162.
Rodolfo PALLUCCHINI, « Il Piazzetta e la sua scuola », dans Giambattista Piazzetta. Il suo tempo, la sua scuola, exhibition catalogue, Venice, 1983, pp. 13-42.