Domenico Bartolini was born in Rome in 1827. We know little about the years of his training and first production, but it is now certain that he attended the Accademia di San Luca, under the guidance of Tommaso Minardi, who introduced him to Purism. Later, he was also a pupil of Francesco Coghetti. He began his career in the 1840s, initially following Purist stylistic features and a painting style particularly focused on sacred narrative.
The beginnings: Purism inherited from Minardi
Two canvases for a chapel in Sant’Andrea delle Fratte date from 1842: The Apparition of the Immaculate to the Israelite Alfonso Ratisbonne and The Baptism of Alfonso di Ratisbonne. Both modulated on cold tones and a pure and rarefied atmosphere leave no room for human drama, as they reveal a carefully calibrated expressiveness and a motif marked by shadows and light.
Between the 1840s and 1850s, Domenico Bartolini worked in his studio in Via Margutta 42, devoting himself above all to genre and biblical subjects, which he exhibited at the 1851 Exhibition of the Amateurs and Connoisseurs of Fine Arts in Rome: Breakfast, Dying Abel, Two Capuchins Intent on a Sacred Reading.
Between sacred and genre subjects
Around 1856, he was responsible for the decoration of the sails of the cupola of Sant’Isidoro, with portraits of saints, including St Anthony of Padua, Fra’ Giovanni Duns Scoto, St Bonaventura, St Francis and St Bernardine of Siena, while for the vault of the high altar he painted The Prayer in the Olive Grove, which once again respects the purist requirement for a serene and balanced return to the composure of 15th-century painting, renewed by a certain vaporousness of tone.
In 1858, Domenico Bartolini moved his studio from Via Margutta to Via Condotti. From this time onwards, he began to devote himself more assiduously to genre subjects, preferring small anecdotal scenes taken from everyday life in Rome and the Sabine province. His lighter works also include Orientalist scenes and small historical reconstructions in the neo-Pompeian style, executed with particular chromatic fluency.
In the meantime he did not abandon his religious commissions: in 1862 he painted for San Paolo Fuori le Mura St Paul in Jerusalem is urged by the angels to stand firm in the faith and St Paul in front of Felix in Caesarea of the south. His only participation in a Promotrice, the one in Florence, in which he presented the Allegory of the dead Cavour, dates back to 1866.
Biographical data regarding the following decades are particularly scarce and lead us directly to the 1880s, when Domenico Bartolini was commissioned by the Superintendency of Excavations in Rome to copy the Etruscan frescoes of some tombs in Tarquinia. He died in Rome in 1884.