Sebastiano Ricci

Sebastiano Ricci was an 18th C., prolific and internationally renowned Italian painter of the late Baroque school of Venice.

In his early life he was jailed twice, for “youthful indiscretions”, but this did not seem to interfere with his rapid rise to renown and many commissions; becoming one of the first travelling and internationalised artists.

Ricci, building on the example of the splendid art of the Veronese, developed a new prevailing ideal; one of clear and rich colouristic beauty, expressive brushwork and an assured touch, paving the way for Tiepolo.

A significant part of Ricci’s work consisted of religious paintings, but he is chiefly remembered for his decorative paintings, drawing upon classical mythology; which bridge the late Baroque and the Rococo style of Watteau and Fragonard.



Sebastiano Ricci - Self PortraitSebastiano Ricci by Faldoni, Giovanni Antonio










Sebastiano Ricci (1st August 1659 – 15th May 1734)     L.  Self Portrait   R. Portrait by Giovanni Antonio Faldoni.



Sebastiano Ricci – BIOGRAPHY

Early years.

Sebastiano Ricci was born in Belluno on the 1st August 1659, the son of Andreana and Livio Ricci.

In 1671, he was apprenticed to Federico Cervelli of Venice; however, some scholars claim that his first master was Sebastiano Mazzoni.

In 1678, a youthful indiscretion led to an unwanted pregnancy and ultimately to a greater scandal; when Ricci was accused of attempting to poison the young woman in question, to avoid marriage. He was imprisoned, and released only after the intervention of a nobleman, probably a Pisani family member. He eventually married the mother of his child in 1691, although this was to be a stormy union.

Following his release, he moved to Bologna, where he lived near the Parish of San Michele del Mercato. His painting style there, was apparently influenced by Giovanni Gioseffo dal Sole.

On the 28th September 1682, he was contracted by the “Fraternity of Saint John of Florence” to paint a “Decapitation of John the Baptist”, for their oratory.









L.   Sebastiano Ricci.   “The Miraculous Draught of Fishes”, c. 1695–97, oil on canvas

R.  Sebastiano Ricci.  “Venus and Cupid“, (c. 1700). Oil on canvas.


On the 9th December 1685, the Count of San Secondo near Parma, commissioned the decoration of the “Oratorio della Beata Vergine del Serraglio”; which Ricci completed in collaboration of Ferdinando Galli-Bibiena by October 1687, receiving a payment of 4,482 Lira.

In 1686, the Duke Ranuccio II Farnese of Parma commissioned a “Pietà”, for a new Capuchin convent.

In 1687-8, Ricci decorated the apartments of the Parmense Duchess in Piacenza with canvases recounting the life of the Farnese pope, Paul III.

Turin and return to Venice.

Apparently in 1688, Ricci abandoned his wife and daughter and fled from Bologna to Turin with Magdalen, the daughter of the painter Giovanni Peruzzini. He was again imprisoned and nearly executed; but was eventually freed by the intercession of the Duke of Parma.

The duke employed him and assigned him a monthly salary of 25 crowns and lodging in the Farnese palace in Rome. In 1692, he was commissioned to copy the “Coronation of Charlemagne” by Raphael in Vatican City. This was on behalf of Louis XIV, a task he finished only by 1694.

Sebastiano Ricci - Venus and Adonis (1706-7)The death of the Duke Ranuccio in December, 1694, who was also his protector, forced Ricci to abandon Rome for Milan; where by November 1695, he completed frescoes in the Ossuary Chapel of the Church of San Bernardino dei Morti.

On 22 June 1697, the Count Giacomo Durini, hired him to paint in the Cathedral of Monza.

In 1698, he returned to the Venetian republic for a decade. By August 1700, he had frescoed the chapel of the Santissimo Sacramento in the church of Santa Giustina of Padua.

In 1701, the Venetian geographer Vincenzo Coronelli, commissioned a canvas of the “Ascension”; that was inserted into the ceiling of sacristy of the Basilica of the Santi Apostoli in Rome.

In 1702, he frescoed the ceiling of the Blue Hall in the Schönbrunn Palace, with the “Allegory of the Princely Virtues and Love of Virtue”, which illustrated the education and dedication of future emperor Joseph I. In Vienna, Frederick August II, the elector Saxony, requested an “Ascension” canvas, in part to convince others of the sincerity of his conversion to Catholicism; which allowed him to become the King of Poland.

In Venice in 1704, he executed a canvas of “San Procolo” (Saint Proculus) for the Dome of Bergamo and a “Crucifixion” for the Florentine church of San Francisco de Macci.

Left. Sebastiano Ricci.Venus and Adonis(1706-7). Oil on canvas.


Florentine frescoes.

In the summer of 1706, he travelled to Florence, where he completed works that are by many, considered his masterpieces. During his Florentine stay, he first completed a large fresco series on allegorical and mythological themes  for the now-called “Marucelli-Fenzi) or Palazzo Fenzi (now housing departments of the University of Florence).

Right. Sebastiano Ricci. General view of the Sala d’Ercole. Note the two wall scenes featuring Hercules.

Fresco. (1706-7)  Palazzo Marucelli-Fenzi, Florence


After this work, Ricci, along with the quadraturista Giuseppe Tonelli, was commissioned by the Grand Duke Ferdinando de’ Medici to decorate rooms in the Pitti Palace. His “Venus takes Leave from Adonis”, contains heavenly depictions that are airier and brighter than prior Florentine fresco series.

(Def. Quadratura: form of illusionistic mural painting in which images of architectural features are painted onto walls or ceilings so that they seem to extend the real architecture of the room into an imaginary space.) 

These works gained him fame and further requests for commissions from foreign lands; showing the rising influence of Venetian painting into other regions of Italy. He was to influence the Florentine Rococo fresco painter, Giovanni Domenico Ferretti.

Return to Venice.

In 1708, he returned to Venice, completing a “Madonna with the Child” for San Giorgio Maggiore. In 1711, now painting alongside his nephew Marco Ricci, he painted two canvases: “Esther to Assuero” and “Moses saved from the Nile”, for the Taverna Palace.

London and Paris.

He ultimately accepted foreign patronage in London, when he  accepted a £770 commission by Lord Burlington for eight canvases; to be completed by him and his nephew Marco. They depicted mythological frolics: “Cupid and Jove”, “Bacchus meets Ariadne”, “Diana and Nymphs”, “Bacchus and Ariadne”, “Venus and Cupid”, “Diane and Endymion”, and a “Cupid and Flora”.

He also decorated the chapel at Bulstrode House, near Gerrards Cross for Henry Bentinck, 1st Duke of Portland; with a cycle of wall-paintings depicting scenes from the life of Christ. George Vertue ,described the scheme as “a Noble free invention. great force of lights and shade, with variety & freedom, in the composition of the parts“. The chapel was demolished in the 19th century, but oil “modelli” still exist.

Ricci also designed, stained glass for the Duke of Chandos’ chapel at Cannons. Between around 1710-15, he painted  “The Resurrection”, in the apse in the chapel at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea (Photo left).

By the end of 1716, with his nephew, he left England for Paris, where he met Watteau and submitted his “Triumph of the Wisdom over Ignorance”;  in order to gain admission to the Royal French Academy of Painting and Sculpture, which was granted on 18 May 1718.


Return to Venice.

He returned to Venice in 1718, a wealthy man and bought comfortable lodgings in the Old Procuratory, on St Mark’s Square.

That same year, the Ricci’s decorated the villa of Giovanni Francesco Bembo in Belvedere, near Belluno.

In 1722, he was one of twelve artists commissioned to contribute a painting on canvas of one of the apostles; as part of a decorative scheme at the church of St Stae in Venice. The other artists involved included Tiepolo, Piazetti, and Pellegrini.

Last years.

From 1724 to 1729, Ricci worked intensely for the Royal House of Savoy, in Turin. In 1724, he painted the “Rejection of Agar and the Silenus adores the Idols” and  in 1725, the “Madonna in Gloria”. In 1726, he completed the “Susanna presented to Daniel and Moses causes water to gush from the rock.

In October 1727, he was admitted to the Clementine Academy of Venice.

Ricci’s style developed a following among other Venetian artists, influencing Francesco Polazzo, Gaspare Diziani, Francesco Migliori, Gaetano Zompini, and Francesco Fontebasso (1709–1769).

He died in Venice on the 15th May 1734.



Ricci made many copies from the works of Paolo Veronese; both of individual heads and of whole compositions. Some of these copies of heads, were bought by George III.

The king also bought a painting of the “Finding of Moses” which his agent, Joseph Smith, claimed was a Veronese; although this too had been painted by Ricci, either as a pastiche of Veronese’s style, or a copy of a work now lost.

Ricci also painted a supposed portrait of Andrea Palladio, attributed to Veronese and engraved by Bernard Picart for the frontispiece of the first English edition (1715) of Palladio’s Four Books of Architecture. According to Rudolf Wittkower however, it does not depict Palladio; but rather is entirely the invention of Ricci.



Please see my introductory post, on the Second Golden Age of Art: together with its most important artists: 

 Venetian Artists-18th Century

Foreign Artists working in Venice

Turner in Venice         Whistler in Venice

Monet in Venice



Sebastiano Ricci    Sebastiano Ricci    Sebastiano Ricci    Sebastiano Ricci

Sebastiano Ricci    Sebastiano Ricci    Sebastiano Ricci    Sebastiano Ricci

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