Roberto Bompiani, born in 1821 into a wealthy middle-class family in Rome, trained at the Accademia di San Luca, immediately achieving excellent results in the drawing and painting classes. His first essays, allegorical, sacred or literary subjects, were exhibited by the painter in the Academy and in the Sala di Piazza del Popolo from the 1940s onwards, with immediate critical success. Works of historical reconstruction or narrative fiction, such as Dante and Virgil over Gerion or Dante declaiming in the workshop of his friend Giotto appeared at the National Exhibition in Florence in 1861, effectively placing Bompiani among the most sought-after and appreciated academic artists of the Roman Purist season, under the pontificate of Pope Pius IX (1846-1878).
Decoration: between Academicism and Purism
A skilful decorator, he identifies himself with that pictorial koinè of solid academic training and clear references to the Purism of Tommaso Minardi (1787-1871), characteristics that unite him with all the painters who participated with him in the fresco decoration of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls. His panel with Agabus in Caesarea prophesying against St. Paul fully respects the canons of purist academicism, in which Raphael remains an undisputed point of reference for the compositional balance, the refined monumentality of the figures and the expressiveness of the human attitudes. At the same time, Bompiani worked on the decoration of San Lorenzo in Lucina, working on the Episodes from the Life of Saint Lawrence in chiaroscuro for the nave.
These were very intense years, in which the author also achieved extraordinary success in the international sphere, following his participation in the Universal Exhibition in London in 1851 and Paris in 1855. As commissioner of the Papal Government at the London Exhibition of 1862, he stayed in the city for about a year and began to entertain important relations with the English and international bourgeoisie, receiving a long series of commissions, including the commission to test the frescoes in Malta Cathedral.
Neo-Pompeian costumes: success in the international market
In the 1960s, he moved into the production of sculptures and small sacred or mythological bas-reliefs, an aspect that underlines the eclecticism of the Roman painter, versed in various techniques and styles. This openness is also confirmed by the pictorial strand to which he devoted himself especially in the last decades of the 19th century, that of genre scenes, neo-Pompeian subjects and official or bourgeois portraits. In his studio in Via San Claudio 86, right in the artistic heart of Rome, he started a production of small subjects that were particularly appreciated by the international market, for which he has been called the “Italian Bouguereau”, such as A Roman Maiden exhibited in Philadelphia, Catullus on the banks of the Tiber, The Pompeian Affixer, A Woman from ancient Pozzuoli and Morning Salutation, all dating back to the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
Works undoubtedly akin to the taste sought after by the Parisian Maison Goupil, which must have contributed to Roberto Bompiani’s affirmation in the complex webs of the European market. Among the best-known works of this production is The Parasite on the Triclinium, also known as A Roman Feast, a canvas conserved at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, in which we can see the in-depth study of ancient architecture and decorations: the frescoes and the inlaid marble floor are based on Roman models, while the stone tables, furnishings and vases depend on Greek, Roman and Etruscan sources, combined in an eclecticism of great effect. Active until the beginning of the 20th century, he died in Rome in 1908 while working on the Apotheosis of Sappho.