Umberto Bottazzi was born in Rome in 1865. An eclectic personality, he trained as an architect, but was also a painter, ceramist, engraver and decorator, a perfect representative of the formulation of the “total work of art”, combining art and applied art, on the model of William Morris’ Arts and Crafts in England.
His artistic development took place during the years of the diffusion of Symbolist fin de siécle culture, enriched by literary and mythological suggestions. His stylistic affinity was initially with Divisionist technique, as can be seen in the etching The Medusa, painted in 1902. Later, he was to be constantly guided by a return to formalism and Renaissance atmospheres, in a declared closeness to Pre-Raphaelite poetics, although he continued to make references to Divisionism.
Between Symbolism and Art Nouveau
Umberto Bottazzi is one of the main representatives of Roman Art Nouveau, a vocation that is mainly visible in his work as an illustrator and graphic designer for numerous magazines, including “Novissima”, for which he designed the cover, but also “La Casa”, a periodical founded with his friends Duilio Cambellotti and Vittorio Grassi and a bulwark of modernist trends in Italy. In 1907, he produced one of his most illustrative paintings of a poetic of suspension and symbol, The Dream, exhibited much later, at the Sindacale di Roma in 1930.
Applied arts: stained glass
Together with the glassworker Cesare Picchiarini, known as Mastro Picchio, in a pleasant and timely reminiscence of the ancient craft, he took part in the movement for the rebirth of antique stained glass and made the veil for the Hotel Old England in Via del Tritone. In 1912, he took part in the Exhibition of Stained Glass in Rome, together with Cambellotti and Grassi. A review by Giuseppe Sprovieri appeared in Cronachetta Artistica, in which he wrote that Bottazzi’s stained glass windows “reveal the wisdom of an antique and are easily reconnected with Renaissance examples”, adding that the Bazel of Peacocks, now in the Casina delle Civette in Villa Torlonia, “from a decorative point of view, is the best thing in the exhibition”. Indeed, the artist displays a decorativism that combines classical balance with the detailed and stylised linearism of the Viennese Secession.
He made very few appearances at exhibitions, including at the Roman Secession in 1914, where he presented the engravings The Ox Bees and Los Vasos de justicia. In addition to his artistic activity, from the 1920s onwards he also taught as the director of the Scuola Professionale Margherita di Savoia at Palazzo Doria. Over the years, while continuing to devote himself to the applied arts and the decorative design of cartoons for panels, curtains, shawls and furnishing objects, he never stopped painting.
Aside from the continuous connections to Divisionism in works such as Daughter Carlotta of 1917, most of Umberto Bottazzi’s pictorial production is characterised by compositional research in which the line is combined with two-dimensional chromatic joints of a cloisonné nature. A persistent Art Déco vein emerges in these works, in the careful attention to the details of the fabrics and in the clear and cadenced linearism, at times solemn and perturbing, as can be seen in some specific pieces executed shortly before his death. These include The Court of King Lear of 1930 and above all the mysterious and enigmatic Circe of 1931.