Giuseppe Cellini was born in Rome in 1855. He trained at the Institute of Fine Arts in 1873, then moved on to courses in applied drawing at the Museo Artistico Industriale, where he graduated in 1880. He fitted in perfectly with the cultural climate of Symbolist Rome, frequenting the “Cronaca Bizantina” magazine from the outset.
Between Symbolism and Art Nouveau in Rome
Thanks to his contact with Prince Baldassarre Odescalchi, he began to participate in social and cultural salons, meeting Gabriele D’Annunzio in 1882, becoming his friend and collaborator. In the same year, at the International Artistic Association, he met Nino Costa who introduced him to the Etruscan School and Pre-Raphaelite symbolism. In 1885, again as part of the Etruscan School, he took part in the exhibition of the Amateurs and Connoisseurs of Fine Arts, with a series of evocative watercolours in which the landscape takes on a mystical and emotional value: Inside Rome, Towards evening, Parioli and San Domenico.
By this time, fully linked to the Symbolist artistic milieu of the capital, in 1886 he participated in the foundation, together with Nino Costa, of the association In Arte Libertas, an offshoot of the Scuola Etrusca. The first exhibition was organised at the Giorgi Studio in Via San Nicola da Tolentino and featured all the artists who took part in the Caffè Greco meetings with Angelo Conti, the Doctor Misticus. Cellini, clearly oriented towards the Pre-Raphaelite part of In Arte Libertas and akin to the tendencies of European aestheticism, had published the important article For Beauty in 1884 in Cronaca Bizantina, which passed under the direction of D’Annunzio.
The decorations in the Sciarra Gallery
Shortly afterwards, he was commissioned by D’Annunzio to design the cover of the periodical: he created the Three Graces, whose clothing is an obvious reference to the Theodora of the Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna. And again in 1886, he participated with other artists in the illustrations for the Editio picta of D’Annunzio’s Isaotta Guttadauro. Two years later, he was commissioned by Maffeo Sciarra to decorate the offices of “Cronaca Bizantina” in Palazzo Sciarra.
A set of female rituals, on a Pompeian red background, summarising the virtues of the bourgeois woman of the late 19th century. An evocative, Art Nouveau language emerges from this refined and unprecedented decoration. In 1889 and until 1892 he moved to Portugal to teach at the School of Fine Arts in Lisbon and the School of Applied Arts in Oporto. After brief stays in Modena and Naples, he returned to Rome in 1894. In 1896 he exhibited Autumn Vespers in Naples and in the meantime worked as a graphic designer and scholar on De Bosis’ magazine “Il Convivio”.
He never stopped working on decoration: in 1897 he was responsible for the decorations, furnishings and installation of the art collection at Villa Anziani in Batteria Nomentana. He collaborated again with D’Annunzio as illustrator of Francesca da Rimini, the Laudi and Forse che sì forse che no.
His intense pictorial work continued throughout the early 20th century, and in 1901 he took part in the first Venice Biennale with On the Nomentana. The year before he had joined the XXV della Campagna Romana group, contributing to the movement with a series of idyllic views and landscapes rich in Symbolist elements.
He was appointed an Academician of San Luca in 1906 and was admitted to the Virtuosi del Pantheon in 1925. He then decorated the reading room of the Casanatense Library and the dome of the Church of Santa Rosa in Viterbo with The Mystic Lamb. He painted and exhibited until the 1920s. He died in Rome in 1940.