Genoese late-Baroque painter Alessandro Magnasco
was born on this day, February 4, 1667. Also
known as Il Lissandrino,the artist is best known for his eccentric,
often phantasmagoric genre and landscape scenes. He left his native city at a young age to train with
painter Filippo Abbiati in Milan. Influenced
by the dramatic art of 17th-century Lombardy, Magnasco’s early paintings are
filled with livid, earthy tones and dramatic contrasts of light and dark. He developed
a very personal style with forms fragmented by swift brushstrokes and often
tiny, flame-like figures that appear to be strewn across the canvas.
Magnasco’s fantastic scenes were favored
by the Grand Duke Giovanni
Gastone Medici of Florence, and the painter is known to have resided in Florence from 1703-1709 in order to paint for the
Grand Duke. Upon his return to Milan, Magnasco was active in the
aristocracy’s intellectual debates and his paintings reflected their taste for scenes from the lives of monks, nuns,
gypsies, mercenaries, witches, beggars, and inquisitors. In Milan, his patrons included such celebrated and progressive
families as the Borromeo, the Archinto, the Arese, the Visconti and the Casnedi.
Magnasco returned permanently to Genoa in 1735, only to reside
there for another fourteen years. Throughout his life, but particularly in his
final years, Magnasco’s swiftly executed brushstrokes are filled with tension. Overall,
there appears to be no serenity in these turbulent paintings, and the artist’s
subjects offer no easy visual pleasures. By choosing to paint socially
marginalized figures, Magnasco expressed deeply felt moral judgments on the
realities of the day.