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Audio: Jose Benlliure y Gil's Il Carnevale di Roma
Jose Benlliure y Gil (Spanish, 1855-1914)
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Jose Benlliure y Gil (Spanish, 1855-1914)

Il Carnevale di Roma

Jose Benlliure y Gil (Spanish, 1855-1914)
Il Carnevale di Roma
signed 'J. Benlliure' (lower left)
oil on canvas
23 5/8 x 39½ in. (60 x 100.3 cm.)
with Hammer Galleries, New York.

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Lot Essay

Born in 1855 in the Cañamelar quarter of Valencia, José Benlliure y Gil began painting at the age of ten in order to supplement his family's meager income. In 1867, at the age of twelve, his talent was noticed by the artist Francisco Domingo, who took upon himself the young boy's artistic education. José was enrolled in the Esculela de Bellas Artes de Valencia. Not only did Domingo teach the young José the rudiments of painting, but he also took him to Madrid in order to see the works of the great Spanish masters.

By 1879, José Benlliure was awarded a trip to Rome by the Spanish government. There he worked under the Italian painter Morelli producing mostly genre and religious pictures. Despite artistic developments in Spain during this time, the country was experiencing continuous political change, which resulted in frequent change in politicians whose preferential treatment favored only a few artists. The desire of Spanish artists to study and work abroad was significant, and many who travelled to Italy remained there in order to pursue their art.

While in Rome, Benlliure attended classes at the Chigi Academy and the International Fine Arts Circle. The school of Spanish painters in Rome included José Villegas y Cordero, Luis Álvarez Catalá, Arcadio Mas y Fondevila, Eugenio Oliva and Manuel Ramirez. 'During the period of 1865 to 1885, the Spaniards were the arbiters and leaders of the Roman artistic circle, to the extent that the most exclusive salons opened their doors to them. The Spanish School in Rome was characterized by the search for novelty of theme and narrative content expressed through minutely detailed brushwork and luminosity.' (C. Gonzalez and M. Marti, Spanish Painters in Rome, Barcelona, 1988, p. 67). Benlliure became an active participant in what was determined at the time to be 'the artistic brain of Europe' (ibid., p. 35). He became the de facto head of the Spanish art colony there and began selling his paintings through Martin Colnaghi, the English dealer of Italian descent. His work soon gained an international clientele, and he received medals in London, Munich, Paris and Stuttgart. Upon his return to Spain in the last decade of the century, he served as the Director of the Spanish Academy of Fine Arts from 1903 until 1910.

In its long history, Rome was the most conspicuous center of carnival activity in Europe. The splendor and opulence of the feast that marked the beginning of Lent was rarely surpassed elsewhere. In Il Carnevale di Roma, Benlliure has captured the ebullience of this festival. He has placed his elaborately-attired characters on a balcony which serves as a stage setting and emphasizes the theatricality which is the essence of Carnevale. The costumes, flowers, tapestries and beribboned birds are all set in a horizontal framework which allows the viewer to move from one to the other, creating a dazzling assault on the senses. The Carnevale was a captivating subject for the artist and this work demonstrates the technical precision, lively brushwork and luminous palette that brought Benlliure considerable success and prestige in his lifetime.

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