Francesco Foschi

(Ancona, 1710 - Rome, 1780)

Of noble background, Francesco had other brothers who were painters: Carlo, the most famous one, dedicated himself to marine themes. Francesco was a precocious student of figure painting, and together with Girolamo Betti and Sebastiano Ceccarini entered the workshop of Francesco Mancini, who became Prince of the Accademia di San Luca in Rome, and a member of the French Academy. The first known figure paintings by Foschi are documented in an inventory of count Raimondo Bonaccorsi: 12 paintings representing Ovid’s Metamorphoses, now unfortunately lost. Francesco had close ties to the count, not only painting for him but helping him to form one of the greatest collections in the Marches. The Bonaccorsi collection had paintings by Solimena, de Matteis, Giaquinto, Giuseppe Maria Crespi, dal Sole, Franceschini, Lazzarini and Balestra. These were dispersed after a sale in 1967, although some were later bought by the Italian state and are now in the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino.

Unpublished documents tell us that in 1729 Foschi and his family arrived in Rome, where Gaspar Van Wittel was creating a taste for the cityscape. This new vogue, and the influence of Giovanni Paolo Panini, certainly influenced Foschi and steered him towards landscapes and view paintings. The Panoramic View with Papal Portraits now in the Palazzo Apostolico, Loreto reveals the influence of both Van Wittel and Francesco Mancini.

In 1744 Foschi married the twenty-three year old Costanza Scirman, and in the same year their first son was born; he died shortly thereafter. In 1750 Foschi signed and dated his first known winter landscape, now in the Musée de Peinture et de Sculpture in Grenoble. It is not known when Foschi started to paint winter scenes but he favoured this genre more than any other throughout his life. In 1755 Francesco is documented in Pesaro where his only daughter Caterina was born and where he lived for several years. In 1764 he returned to Rome where he stayed until his death on February 21, 1780. His obituary, which appeared in the Roman newspaper Ordinario Cracas reads as follows: “After a long and painful sickness, the 21st day of last February, the Cavalier Francesco Foschi, famous painter of winter landscapes died. This talented professor who in his genre never had a second best nor an equal, had worked so much during the last years of his life that he not only honored those many commitments that he had, but had even the time to work on many paintings (purely) for his own pleasure. The experts who saw the paintings said that he had reached the highest level of his art. This series of paintings is very important and forms the most precious part of the inheritance left to his daughter.”

Francesco Foschi had a prestigious career. His works were very much in vogue in the late eighteenth century and achieved high prices. Among the many collectors known to have cherished his winter scenes we find the Cardinal de Bernis, Ambassador of France in Rome, Sir William Hamilton, British Ambassador in Naples, the Count d’Orsay, the Marquis de Robien, Prince Camillo Borghese and Pauline Bonaparte.

By the mid-eighteenth century, the first signs of the new cultural era of Romanticism appeared, influencing landscape painters. The pre-Romantic taste fascinated the artists who aimed for a sense of the “sublime”, and the pre-eminence of nature and its awe-inspiring beauty became themes to be interpreted together with those of solitude and catastrophe. This sensibility led to the transformation in landscape painting between the Neo-Classical and Romantic eras.