Juana Romani was born in Velletri in 1867, with the name Carolina Carlesimo. When she was only ten years old, she and her family moved to Paris. Living in the Latin Quarter, in an atmosphere of fervent artistic activity, during the 1880s she often posed as a model for the painters of the Colarossi and Julian Academies.
Jean-Jacques Henner (1829-1905) became her mentor from 1883, when the model Angelo Arpino, a friend of Juana’s, introduced her to the artist’s atelier. Her proximity to Henner allowed her to be immediately known as a model, but above all encouraged her to propose her first works, all female portraits. It was between the end of the 1880s and the beginning of the following decade that Juana Romani, supported by Henner and her master Ferdinand Roybet (1840-1920), experienced her meteoric rise in the field of painting, followed unfortunately by an equally rapid decline due to her mental condition.
The timeless fascination of female portraits: from Salome to Joan of Arc
His production focuses exclusively on female portraits. Seductive female figures emerge from mysterious dark backgrounds. The perturbing and hypnotic charm of the femme fatale of the Parisian Belle époque is accentuated by virtuosic brushwork and the choice to portray women from modern life, but also protagonists from history, from the Bible of literature. The dark tones contrast with the opalescent, mother-of-pearl tones of the shining skin wrapped in sumptuously and charmingly draped gowns, reminiscent of 17th-century Velàzquez chromatism, which lends a sincere plastic strength to the figures.
An extraordinary life and a rapid decline: the fate of a belle époque painter
Herodias appeared at the 1890 Salon, Judith and Magdalene at the 1891 Salon, all fatal women like Bianca Cappello in 1892 and Thoughtful in 1894. After presenting his personal heroines, true icons of power, courage and eroticism Joan of Arc, Salomè and Mina da Fiesole, he arrived at the Venice Biennale in 1901 with Angelica, which was, however, harshly criticised.
After the extraordinary success achieved in Paris between the Salon and the Universal Exhibitions, the negative experience of the Venice Biennale caused her first disturbances that would turn into a real mental disorder after the death of her dear master Henner. She also tried to maintain contact with her Velletri in order to organise a solo exhibition, but the negative response caused her definitive discouragement. In 1906, Roybet, who witnessed her numerous crises, had her interned at Ivry-sur-Seine, near Paris. She died at the age of only fifty-six, in 1923, in the Seresnes clinic, now forgotten by the general public that had so acclaimed her.