February 15, 2007

Ciafferi, Poli & Poli

Pietro Ciafferi (1600-54), also known as lo smargiasso (‘the braggart’) was a Tuscan painter and draughtsman, a minor figure in anyone’s history of art, most (but not all) of whose few surviving works are on maritime themes—depicting shipwrecks, naval battles and port scenes. The following pair of details show parts of a pendant pair of paintings of imaginary waterfronts, the scenery in which is based in part on Ciafferi’s native Livorno.

Detail of a 'Port Scene,' one of a pair of paintings by Pietro Ciafferi, 17thC.


Detail of a 'Port Scene,' one of a pair of paintings by Pietro Ciafferi, 17thC.

I don’t know how Ciafferi earned his nickname, but his skill as a draughtsman seems to have been well worth bragging about. The first of the pair of details that follow shows a woodland scene dominated by an anthropomorphic tree-figure, while the second depicts a ship undergoing repair.

Detail of a 'Landscape with Anthropomorphic Figure,' pen drwaing by Pietro Ciafferi, 17thC.


Detail from 'Ship Under Repair,' pen-&-watercolour drawing by Pietro Ciafferi, 17thC.

Imaginary seascapes also feature in the œuvre of Gherardo (1675-1739) and Giuseppe Poli (1704-67), although this father-and-son team’s capricci were oftener land-bound, featuring grand ruins set in dramatic landscapes, or crowded cityscapes. The first of the details below shows a sketchy landscape, where the stylised vegetation and rock-formations apparently betray the influence of Jacques Callot’s etchings. The second detail (alas, in black-and-white) is of a more extraordinary work entitled Casa che Brucia (‘Burning House’), which at one time was attributed to Poli & Poli, perhaps owing to its slight likeness to landscapes such as the one below.

Detail of a 'Maritime landscape' by Gherardo and/or Giuseppe Poli, 18thC.


Detail from a painting called the 'Burning House,' (artist unknown, coll. Museo Bardini, Florence).

Many of Poli & Poli’s canvases follow the same formula: a vast, ruined edifice towers above some figures milling about in the foreground, against a backdrop of picturesque scenery. The detail immediately below shows part of one of dozens of such works. The last detail opens on to an example of an urban cappriccio by the duo: one of a series of four peculiar visions of Paris, seemingly based on an etching of Callot’s, but also incorporating some local Tuscan architectural elements too.

Detail from a 'Capriccio with Fantastical Architecture and Statues,' by Gherardo and/or Giuseppe Poli, 18thC.


Detail from a 'Fantastic View of Paris,' by Gherardo and/or Giuseppe Poli, 18thC.

All of the images above were scanned from a book I acquired recently, entitled Fantastiche Vedute. Dal Ciafferi al Poli. La pittura di capriccio in Toscana.

Posted by misteraitch at February 15, 2007 03:47 PM

Dear mr.h

It's the first time I comment one of your post. I'm a regular reader of your wonderfoul and estonishing blog.
The pictures published yesterday remindes me an exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-arts from Lille, France : "L'Homme-Paysage : visions d'artistes du paysage antropomorphe entre le XVIe et le XXIe siècle" which was presented from the 15th october 2006 to the 14th january 2007.
The title could be translated in "Man Landscape" : "A thematic exhibition, L’Homme paysage proposes different representations of nature transformed by the visions of artists from the 16th century to the present day. Sometimes aesthetic mirages and sometimes projections of fantasy, these works deliver a strong metaphysical message in terms of the place occupied by humanity in the universe, via various plastic art forms (painting, sculpture, photography…)."
Here is the description of the catalogue : http://www.somogy.fr/fiche.php?ref=2-7572-0041-0
An Article of the french periodical Libération : http://www.liberation.fr/culture/224998.FR.php
A picture of the exhibition (

Best regards,

Posted by: Tecamachalco on February 16, 2007 03:01 PM

The Burning House reminds me of Goya's Giant. Except the former is humorous rather than tragic.

Posted by: on February 16, 2007 08:50 PM

Incredible works, I particularly enjoy the odd tree character with the snails climbing its arms, very strange.

Posted by: Aeron on February 18, 2007 04:01 AM

Splendid! Years ago I read a book that showed Bosch's predecessors sketches, it was like demolishing a myth :-)
These ones though are rather amusing and naive (because they were not created to serve a religious scope...).

Posted by: Tia O'Connor on February 18, 2007 08:13 AM

Looks to me as though the house in Burning House is a hat on top of a face. Below the house, I see a nose, and an eye and a mouth with teeth..

I can't decide if everyone sees that and I'm an idiot for stating the obvious, or if no one sees it and I should be locked up.

Posted by: rob on February 19, 2007 09:06 PM

Hi there! I've found your blog twice in a row - once looking up some Codex Seraphinianus stuff, and then also finding more information on Giovanni Battista Bracelli. I really REALLY enjoy such interesting things you write about. Just thought I'd let you know that you've got a new regular reader :)

Posted by: T. on February 21, 2007 07:28 PM
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