Capalti, Alessandro (1810-1868)

Capalti, Alessandro (1810-1868)

The elegant and clean-cut portraits of Alessandro Capalti are a testament to his popularity as a portrait painter in the 19th century.

Born in Rome, Capalti seemingly had artistic enterprise running through his blood. His mother, Anna Serafini, had been a pupil of the artist Therese Concordia Maron (1725-1806). An educated man, Capalti began to receive tuition in drawing and painting from artists such as Andrea Pozzi (1778-1833) and Gaspare Landi (1756-1830). Most significantly, however, were his lessons from Tommaso Minardi (1787-1871).

Capalti drew much inspiration from Minardi, particularly in terms of the religious themes many of his earlier works possessed. At the start of his career, Capalti was fortunate to receive the patronage of the wealthy, princely Torlonia family. Holding great cultural sway in Rome, the Torlonia family enabled Capalti to execute a number of frescoes. These were done with a neoclassical nod which touched upon the refined, exquisite renderings of the Renaissance Raphael. In the many paintings Capalti also exhibited at the Royal Academy in London over a seven-year period, religious themes were also amongst the most popular in his works.

However, it is for his work as a portrait painter that he is most commonly known. The noble and upper-class families of Italy were often clients to Capalti’s masterful brush. Capalti would paint illustrious figures from Pope Pius IX to the Count of Trapani, all with a delicate, dexterous hand. His works have a keen sense of realism, he conjures up detail in the unique details to his many sitters’ faces. He allows the falling of shadows to cast a fine shading across the count’s strongly boned nose. His female sitters have their elegance and gentility emphasised through carefully anatomised hands, which are placed with intentional grace upon their laps. Yet at the same time, he adds a gravitas in deep, rich colouring, often placing his sitters in finely decorated surroundings. These emphasise their sense of status and superiority.

Capalti would also receive numerous clients from Britain during his career. It was still common for sitters to travel to Italy to have their portrait painted by an Italian artist, as had become trendy during the 18th century. Jane Loftus, Marchioness of Ely (1821-1890) sat for him, as well as Mr and Mrs Murray-Stewart, clearly a wealthy family from the luxurious quality of their clothing, given a crispness and richness by Capalti’s coherent colouring.

Capalti was extremely successful, and his skill was recognised in his time. He would replace his former teacher Minardi as a professor at the Academy of St Luke in Rome. He would also become a Virtuoso of the Pantheon, a position which celebrated his merit as an artist. His renown stretched from Italy across Europe, predominantly to Britain, from where so many of his clients would hail. He remained loyal to his homeland, however, living and working for most of his life in Rome. It is a great sadness that Minardi has slipped a little between the cracks of history. Since his death, many of his works have been destroyed through accident and incident, leading to erasure of some of his brilliance. Nonetheless, the elegance and eloquence of his works speak for themselves as a testament to his skill.


Born in Rome, Italy.


Became a professor at the Academy of St Luke.


Became a Virtuoso of the Pantheon.


Became professor of design at the Academy of St Luke.


Exhibited at the Royal Academy, London, Britain.


Died in Rome, Italy.

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