Paesaggi campestri con contadini e armenti
Four oil paintings on canvas
Francesco Londonio. Milano, 1765-1770 circa
Each 25.8 x 18.9 in (65.5 x 48 cm)
Each frame 26.8 x 23.4 in (68 x 59.5 cm)
Three are signed
The first painting, signed “Fran./Londonio”, on the bottom right above a stone, depicts a pastoral scene of transhumance, that is to say the seasonal practice of moving livestock from one grazing area to another. From a dilapidated turreted building, a road leads to the scene in the foreground, centered around a flock of goats and sheeps and a cow led by a shepherd, as well as a boy and a woman on a donkey. The animals, which seem to come out of a natural shelter, are approaching a stream where two other goats are drinking. This scene was loved by Londonio and was probably frequently requested by his clients; some other versions of it are known, albeit in more stylized versions (a similar painting, dated 1771, passed through the market: see Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings, XIX Century Paintings, Furniture, Ceramics and Works of Art and Books. Milan, June 2009, lot 56). In this work we are able to recognize some characters taken from the painter’s studies, such as the “sitting peasant girl”, transposed here into the woman “seated on the donkey” who, along with the resting sheep placed in the foreground, find an exact comparison in the oil on paper drawing today found at the Pinacoteca di Brera, where the sketched sheep are substituted here by a goat with a dappled coat (S. Coppa, in Pinacoteca di Brera. Scuole lombarda, ligure e piemontese 1535-1796, Milano 1989, p. 285 n. 183). Even the shepherd figures and the boy derive their image from one of the Brera studies, where instead of the male figure on the second floor, a child with headgear is depicted. Other similarities can be drawn with the painting Shepherds with flock of sheep and dog that Coppa, due to its characteristic features, relates to the Portaroli of Ceruti (S. Coppa, p. 292 n. 197).
The second painting is the only one unsigned, although it is entirely consistent in quality and in subject matter with the artist’s top production. It depicts a bucolic scene with an old peasant woman with a spinning wheel as the protagonist. The woman, sitting on a rock, looks at the observer with the spindle in her hand and the spinning wheel under her arm. Behind her a shepherd boy, leaning on a stick, checks the resting cattle. In the background, there is a donkey in a harness and a rural landscape with a cottage located on top of a hill. The figure of the spinner had already been depicted in a slightly different pose in one of the engravings created by the painter for Benigno Bossi, in the series prepared between 1759 and 1782 and dedicated to Count Firmian (M. Scola, Catalogo ragionato delle incisioni di Francesco Londonio, Milano 1994, pp. 103-104, n. 85). In the engraving the spinner is younger, with bare feet and the spindle held down. But in a painting, now in the Pinacoteca of the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, the woman has the same pose as ours, with the scene however being different: as in the engraving, for example, the shepherd boy is depicted asleep and not from behind. This figure in turn can be found in later and more stylistically developed works: see for example the sketch found today in Brera. It came from the artist’s studio and was a bequest of Carlo Londonio himself (S. Coppa, in Pinacoteca di Brera. Scuole lombarda, ligure e piemontese 1535-1796, Milano 1989, p. 273, n. 165).
The third painting is signed “F Londonio f” in the lower left corner in the shadow area and used many of the figurative elements typical of the Lombard painter’s art. Near a country barn, a young woman leaning against a basket of vegetables, partly overturned, converses with a shepherd who is holding a stick. Behind the woman, there is a girl holding a basket with two doves, while a boy looks curiously at the overturned basket. In the background, a shepherd retrieves a wandering sheep. Animals lying down enrich the composition. The female figure leaning against the basket is often used by the painter: it appears as the protagonist in one of the studies, in oil on paper, preserved in the Pinacoteca di Brera, a variation, however, in which she supports a bowl. A painting with Pastore e donna in riposo (Shepherd and Resting Woman) with the same subject, dated 1766, is kept in a private collection (S. Coppa, in Pinacoteca di Brera. Scuole lombarda, ligure e piemontese 1535-1796, Milano 1989, p. 280-281 n. 178). Even the peasant girl with the basket finds numerous confirmations: she is present in the Brera sketches (S. Coppa, in Pinacoteca di Brera. Lombard, Ligurian and Piedmontese schools 1535-1796, Milan 1989, p. 290 n. 178) with a basket filled with eggs (n. 192), and also in the drawings and sketches of the painter or in a similar version in a painting Riposo di pastori (Rest of shepherds) in a private collection. (M. Bona Castellotti, La pittura lombarda del ‘700, Milano 1986, tav. 397).
Also, the fourth canvas with a shepherdess handing a bowl of milk to a traveler, finds precise confirmation in a painting with a similar scene, now present in the Pinacoteca of the Castello Sforzesco. Our work is quite similar: one of the goats on the right is missing and there are some variations in the wild plants. The work also bears the signature “Fran.co Londonio f.“. The same scene is reproduced in larger works such as the painting with Presepe (Nativity scene), which recently passed onto the Milanese market and which sees the two figures reproduced at the hut in Bethlehem. (Il Ponte, Milano, asta 428, Lotto 424).
Francesco Londonio and his painting in 18th century Milan
Francesco Londonio was born in Milan on 7 October 1723.
He was a pupil of the Milanese Ferdinando Porta (Milan, 1687 – 1763) specialized in Nordic-Roman genre painting and rich in “bambocciate”.
Londonio’s painting, the object of divergent critical judgment, went beyond the limits of detached pastorelleria, and can be firmly placed instead in the Milanese cultural scene between the Arcadia and the Enlightenment.
He is remembered today for having been among the most industrious artists of the eighteenth century working for private Milanese families. Thus, around the seventies, with the two cycles of canvases painted for the Grianta and Alari families, we have complex and articulated compositions with figures leaving room for Mediterranean landscapes: the pictorial cycles of the Grianta palace in Milan include 21 pastoral subject paintings, today partially preserved in the Pinacoteca of Brera. The imposing cycle of 24 canvases of pastoral and rural subjects destined for the Villa Alari (later Visconti di Saliceto) in Cernusco sul Naviglio (Milan) dates from the same years. The complex, dismembered and dispersed among various private collections after 1944, decorated the dining room and an adjoining room of the villa.
In the seventies the painting of Londonio did not fundamentally experience significant developments. The painter seems to repeat formulas he had already experimented with in the previous decade, though these were with a more cursive and nervous brushstroke. They go back, at least in part, to this stage, in other important complexes of Londonio’s works, such as those made for the Borromeo, the Greppi and the Mellerio families. For Count Giacomo Mellerio’s villa del Gernetto in Lesmo (Milan), the painter created various works (lists in Böhm, pp. 252, 256), which spread on the market shortly before 1972. The Borromeo collection of Isola Bella has about 40 paintings by Londonio (Böhm), of which at least two were commissioned by Cardinal Vitaliano Borromeo (Scola, nos. 76, 81), but most of them were purchased by Count Giberto Borromeo in the early decades of the nineteenth century.
Apart from his favorite pastoral theme, Londonio also cultivated, albeit marginally, still lifes such as those with Selvaggina in the Borromeo collection on Isola Bella (Morandotti, p. 309, figs. 364 f.) and the portrait: just think of the Ritratto del fratello prete Giuseppe (1710 – post 1801) (Böhm, p. 250) and to the well-known Autoritratto at the Castello Sforzesco now given an earlier date of 1763 (Geddo, 2002, p. 37, fig. 26).
Francesco Londonio also played a primary role in the renewal of the painted and cut paper nativity scene, which was applied to cardboard, and much in vogue in Lombardy in the late eighteenth century (P. Madini, I presepi del Londonio, in Almanacco della famiglia meneghina dell’Ist. naz. di cultura fascista per l’anno 1936, Milano 1937, pp. 97-104). Among the numerous paper nativity scenes attributed to the painter (ibid., Pp. 102-104), the imposing very high quality one in the church of San Marco in Milan.
Known in Milanese folklore as a witty protagonist of the carefree Milanese society of the time, the painter was the inventor of the “Teatro dei Foghetti”: an ingenious traveling theater, which heralded today’s animated cinema.
Londonio died in Milan on December 26, 1783; a celebrated painter, he was buried in the church of S. Eufemia. He did not have a proper school, but a host of imitators and followers with whom he was sometimes confused.
Cover Photo: Fabrizio Stipari
Böhm, Pittori milanesi del Settecento: F. Londonio, in Rivista d’arte, XVI (1934), pp. 229-261;
P. Madini, Luca Beltrami nell’aneddoto e altri appunti storici e folcloristici, Milano 1934, pp. 145-166;
Id., I presepi del Londonio, in Almanacco della famiglia meneghina dell’Ist. naz. di cultura fascista per l’anno 1936, Milano 1937, pp. 97-104;
S. Coppa, La quadreria dispersa, in S. Coppa-E. Ferrario Mezzadri, Villa Alari, Cernusco sul Naviglio, Cernusco sul Naviglio 1984, pp. 59, 61-63, 68-74, figg. 64-71;
Id., in Pinacoteca di Brera. Scuole lombarda, ligure e piemontese 1535-1796, Milano 1989, pp. 258-299;
Id., in Settecento lombardo (catalogo Londonio), a cura di R. Bossaglia – V. Terraroli, Milano 1991, pp. 206-211, 274-276;
Id., in Museo d’arte antica del Castello Sforzesco. Pinacoteca, IV, Milano 2000, pp. 131-148;
M. Scola, Catalogo ragionato delle incisioni di F. Londonio, Milano 1994 (con bibl. Londonio sul Londonio incisore);
C. Geddo, in Gli arredi dei principi (catalogo Londonio, galleria Piva), Milano 2000, pp. 63-65;
S. Coppa – C. Geddo, a cura di, Brera mai vista. Tra Arcadia e Illuminismo in Lombardia: la raccolta di studi di F. Londonio (catalogo Londonio), Milano 2002 (con documenti).