Annibale Angelini, born in Perugia in 1812, completed his early training at the local Academy, where he was a pupil of the purist painter Tommaso Minardi. He then moved to Rome to study at the Accademia di San Luca and then in Florence and Milan, where he was taught by the set designer, architect and painter Alessandro Sanquirico.
Working as a decorator
He soon specialised in mural painting and was called upon to decorate numerous Italian homes. He decorated the ceiling of the hall of Palazzo Doria in Rome, the Gallery of the Royal Palace in Turin and, above all, the Orvieto Theatre, where he worked with Cesare Fracassini.
An excellent perspective painter and quadraturist, during the 1860s he also frescoed several palaces in Perugia, such as Palazzo Angelini, which he owned, adopting a series of 16th-century decorative models.
A skilled restorer, he was sincerely admired by Pope Pius IX, who appointed him to restore the Cappella Paolina, where Angelini was also to create the fresco on the counter-façade, between 1855 and 1856. He was also involved in the restoration of Raphael’s frescoes in the Chigi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo. He is also known as a theatrical scenographer, still deeply attached to a neoclassical and academic approach to decoration.
History painting, interiors, perspective views
As an easel painter, Annibale Angelini, in his youth, devoted himself mainly to history paintings of a celebratory nature, as can be seen in the Return of Amedeo VI from the East and Ezzelino da Romano, both commissioned by King Carlo Alberto. In fact, his pictorial production is also particularly rich in interior studies: in 1863, on the occasion of the renovation of Perugia Cathedral and with the desire to be chosen as director of works, the artist produced a scenographic and majestic canvas depicting the Interior of Perugia Cathedral, giving it a purely 14th-century appearance. In 1879, at the Academy of Fine Arts in Perugia, the painter exhibited the Interior of St Peter’s Dome seen from above, the Interior of St Peter’s Dome seen from below and the Interior of St Peter’s Basilica, works that won him a gold medal from the Ministry of Public Education and were then shown again at the National Exhibition in Turin in 1880.
But Annibale Angelini’s easel painting was also distinguished by his numerous perspective views. At the Promotrice in Genoa in 1856 he exhibited four works entitled Country and at the 1863 Promotrice he showed a series of views, including Afternoon, Villa Doria Wood, Snowfall in the Valley Outline and Sunset, Tivoli Outline.
The airy, luminous, unpublished view of Il Ponte del Soldino (The “Cents” Bridge) dates from 1869, an exemplary painting that fully reflects Annibale Angelini’s activity as one of the last and most important theorists of perspective. An activity that he also carried on in his role as teacher of theatrical perspective at the Accademia di San Luca from 1851 onwards.
Il Ponte del Soldino is a curious and unusual view of Rome, since it represents the Fiorentini’s Bridge, which was destroyed in July 1941. It stood near the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, as can be seen in the painting. In fact, the majestic dome, built by Carlo Maderno in 1614, forms the backdrop to the metal structure of the bridge. It was commissioned by the Papal Administration to join Via Giulia to Via della Lungara, and was built in 1863 by a French company using steel cables and rods for the suspended structure and latticework sides. To cross it, pedestrians had to pay a toll of five cents, i.e. one penny. Hence the name “Ponte del soldino”, by which it is known to the Romans, who today find themselves crossing the Ponte Principe Amedeo that replaced it.
Annibale Angelini’s picturesque view, dating from six years after the construction of the Bridge, is not only evidence of a ‘vanished’ Rome, but also an invaluable narrative of the daily life that took place around the banks of the Tiber in the late 1860s, just before the breach of Porta Pia on 20 September 1870. Shortly afterwards, Pius IX, a pope very close to the painter from Perugia, would be deposed, the Papal States abolished and Rome would become the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, under Victor Emmanuel II. This is an important date today, given the imminent celebrations in 2020 of the 150th anniversary of Rome as capital city.
The Cents Bridge certainly reflects Annibale Angelini’s debt to Lorrain’s classical views, especially given the diffuse luminosity and lenticular attention to detail. From a perspective point of view, the Umbrian painter gives us a perfect and exact construction through the juxtaposition of Roman architecture, including San Giovanni dei Fiorentini and Castel Sant’Angelo in the background.
The small figures, like characters in a theatrical setting, represent a range of types from Papal Rome at the time: a group of Zuavi soldiers, volunteers who came from France in 1861 to defend the Papal States from the capture of Rome by the Kingdom of Italy, the small group of men playing cards a little further on, the women carrying laundry, the boats plying the waters. All permeated by a solid balance that is effectively combined with the almost Flemish meticulousness that is also found in the perfect reflection of the Church in the calm waters of the Tiber.