Francesco Zerilli was born in Palermo in 1797. Although there is very little information about the painter and almost all of it comes from his biographer Agostino Gallo, it has been ascertained that his initiation into the world of drawing took place in Francesco Ognibene’s studio. After this initial experience, sources report that he was apprenticed to Giuseppe Patania in Palermo.
His very short career, cut short by a cholera epidemic that led to his death in 1837 at the age of only forty, is studded with valuable commissions for his landscape paintings, for example that of the Duchess of Parma Maria Luigia of Habsburg.
The early 19th century: the classical view in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies
Not only a painter but also an engraver, Francesco Zerilli was the author of several ideal views, inspired by the observation of the motif from life, but reworked in a tempera studio with clear references to the classical landscape of the 17th century, filtered through the experiences of other Palermo landscape painters such as Alessandro D’Anna.
Seascapes of Palermo, views of Caserta and Agrigento are almost all kept in private collections. Examples are View of Palermo from Baida, View of Palermo from the Hills, Temple of Concord at Girgenti, while Villa Belmonte is in the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna in Palermo.
All these views, produced following the canons of the traditional vedute, with their arboreal backdrops, limpid luminosity and serene, golden atmosphere, recall not only Lorrain’s experience, but also the Nordic Vedutism of Jakob Philipp Hackert, a painter who is often used as a stylistic term of comparison for Francesco Zerilli’s painting.
The crystalline narrative of a luminous Palermo, almost always seen from above, brought Francesco Zerilli immediate success. To the breadth of the view he combines a perfect, lenticular description of details, which has often led critics to think that he had the help of a camera obscura.