Paolo Coen: Arte, cultura e mercato in una bottega romana del XVIII secolo: l’impresa calcografica di Giuseppe e Mariano Vasi fra continuità e rinnovamento (Estratto dal fasc. 115)


Art, culture and trade in a Roman atelier and print–shop of the eighteenth century: continuity and renewal in the copper–plate printing business of Giuseppe and Mariano Vasi

Giuseppe Vasi, often undervalued in the past, due not least to invidious comparisons with his most famous pupil, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, is now being gradually rediscovered and his artistic status reassessed. The paper examines his art and the conduct of his business.
An initial problem tackled in the paper is the artist’s effective method of work: a preliminary distinction is made, in this regard, between works produced on commission and unsolicited works, i.e. those personally drawn, engraved, and more often than not sold by Vasi. As regards the former category, distinguished by an extraordinary variety of typologies and iconographies, the author makes extensive use of unpublished documents, which also throw fresh light on the rich nucleus of master–plates executed for the Calcografia Camerale. As regards the unsolicited works, dedicated almost entirely to urban vedute, they are shown to be ideal for tackling a second problem of vital importance: the artist’s figurative sources which, contrary to the common assumption, go well beyond the narrow ambit of the Roman tradition. Already artistically mature when he arrived in Rome in 1736, Vasi renewed his style by studying the best vedutisti of the period, from Gaspar van Wittel to Giovanni Paolo Pannini. From Pannini, in particular, he seems to have derived a long misunderstood characteristic of his style, namely the subordination of topographical objectivity to the spatial and luminous effect of the scene as a whole.
The breadth of Vasi’s figurative sources also prompts an analysis of Vasi’s literary culture: the author reviews his schooling, his relations with the érudits of the period — from Giovani Gaetano Bottari to Father Giuseppe Bianchini, who probably inspired the ambitious publishing project of the Magnificenze —, his possible cultural models, including Pier Leone Ghezzi, and his personal contribution in the field of poetry and literature.
The final sections of the paper, in large part based on unpublished archival sources, elucidate the management of the Vasi copper–plate printing business as a whole, which was inherited by Giuseppe’s only male heir, and former assistant, his son Mariano Vasi in 1782. Attention is focused on the use of the master–plates, the system of sale, the advertising methods and, more widely, the entire economic and financial conduct of the two generations, in which it is possible to distinguish not only clear and natural factors of continuity but also substantial differences.