Marcello Bacciarelli (1731-1818)

Marcello Bacciarelli, born on 10 February 1731 in Rome, died on 5 January 1818 in Warsaw, was one of the most significant figures of Polish painting. Nearly all his works were created in our country, and they have remained here until this day. There are very few traces of his artistic work from before he visited Poland for the first time in the years 1756–1764 and took permanent residence in the country in 1766. Our knowledge about Bacciarelli’s life before his first stay in Poland comes from his first employer, director of the Royal Gallery in Dresden, Karl Heinrich Heinecken, who, in the 1760s, published the first summary of the painter’s early career. This is the source of the information – repeated by subsequent biographers – that young Marcello was an apprentice in the workshop of Marc Benefial. It is possible that it was owing to his patronage that, in 1750, Heinecken proposed to Bacciarelli to travel to the capital of Saxony, to the court of Augustus III, King and Elector of Saxony. He was employed there to make engravings modelled on famous paintings from the Dresden Gallery. Out of 100 engravings published in a two-volume album, seven are listed as Bacciarelli’s designs. According to Heinecken, during Bacciarelli’s stay in Dresden, he also painted oil paintings, but none of those works is known today.

In 1756, the Seven Years’ War broke out. Bacciarelli, who fled together with the court of Augustus III from Prussian bombardments of Dresden, left for Warsaw. He was accompanied by his apprentice, Juliana Frederika Richter, whom he had married a year earlier. It is presumed that during that stay in Poland, the painter made his first contact with Stanisław Antoni Poniatowski, who was the Grand Duke of Lithuania at the time. In the two subsequent years, he painted at least seven portraits depicting members of the Poniatowski family. After the war, Bacciarelli received an offer to be a professor in a newly established academy of fine arts in Dresden. However, he decided to stay in Poland, possibly encouraged by Stanisław Poniatowski, who was soon to assume the Polish throne. Shortly before the election, in March of 1764, Bacciarelli departed for Vienna once again in order to paint portraits of the Imperial family. The only apparent trace of that commission might be the Portrait of Archduchess Maria Christina, which is attributed to him and was painted in January of 1766 (currently part of the collections of the Art History Museum in Vienna – Kunsthistorisches Museum). Still during his stay in Vienna, from the beginning of 1766, the painter started to receive a salary from Stanisław August, and between April and October of that year, he took up residence in Warsaw.

He became a court painter and a trusted advisor to the King in artistic matters, an intermediary in contacts with painters and art dealers, and was in charge of logistical and organisational matters related to the King’s patronage. In 1766, at the request of Stanisław August, he created the design of an academy of fine arts, which was to be established in Warsaw, but finally did not come to fruition due to financial matters and other obstacles. The function of the would-be academy was fulfilled by the Bacciarelli’s workshop in the Royal Castle, known as Malarnia (Painting Workshop).

In 1768, the Sejm of the Republic approved granting a heritable Polish noble title to Bacciarelli.

Read more