Giovanni Cavalleri, known as “il Rana”, was born in Sabbio Bergamasco in 1858. He trained at the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo under the guidance of Enrico Scuri. He began his production under the sign of the romantic suggestions transmitted to him by the master Scuri, only initially favouring the cleanliness of the image typical of the purist management of colour.
After this very first impact, he began to separate himself, not without bitter contrasts with master Scuri, from academic painting, to move into a loose realism with vibrant brushstrokes, which stemmed above all from his closeness to Cesare Tallone, his second teacher at the Academy. After graduating in 1880, Giovanni Cavalleri exhibited his first genre painting, Grandfather’s Thursday, at Brera, characterised by a broad, fast brushstroke. An artist well known in the Bergamo and Brescia areas, he was ironically nicknamed “il Rana” (the Frog) because of his proverbial gluttony for frogs, a typical dish in Sabbio.
His stay in Rome: his approach to realism
In the first half of the 1980s, the painter from Lombardy went to Rome with his friend Rinaldo Agazzi, who had attended Tallone’s courses at the Accademia Carrara with him. This stay in Rome was fundamental for Giovanni Cavalleri, who experimented even more with the already present verist suggestions, thanks to his acquaintance with Antonio Mancini.
Although he was more interested in the figure, from the 1880s onwards he moved closer to the landscape, opening up to the luministic and atmospheric looseness of southern realism, particularly that of the Resina School, as can be seen in the painting At Sea, presented in Milan in 1884. During his stay in Rome, Giovanni Cavalleri became friends with Cesare Maccari, a figure who was to influence him above all in the future management of his decorative production, for which he is mainly known.
The activity of fresco painter in the churches of the Lombardy area
On his return to Lombardy, although he continued to devote himself to landscape painting and portraits, especially of men, he was more involved in various sacred decorative works for numerous churches in the Lombardy area.
In the 1990s, in fact, he was commissioned to paint various frescoes in the churches of Seriate, Pianca, Sovere, Olda in Val Taleggio, Cividate al Piano, Osio Sopra, Calcinate, where he decorated the Chapel of the Sacred Heart, and Cassiglio.
Among Cavalleri’s most significant works as a decorator are the frescoes in the Sanctuary of Pradalunga and the Parish Church of Ponte Nossa. In these works he reached the height of his reworking of 15th-century and Renaissance styles. In fact, not only do the suggestions of Enrico Scuri, a master he had fought so hard against in his youth, return, but also the chromatic harmonies and the neo-Renaissance scenographic layout of Maccari, in a happy combination of painting and ornamentation that also recalls some purist and Nazarene ideas, certainly studied in Rome.