NOVELLI, Pietro Antonio III (1729-1804). 'Animali q[u]adrupedi dissegnati a penna dal Sig: Pietro Antonio Novelli pittor Veneto.' A bound collection of original pen-and-ink drawings by Novelli, [Venice: c. 1770].
3 volumes, 2° (472 x 375mm. with mounts; drawings 341 x 262mm). Title in pen-and-black ink with pictorial border of animals, 199 pen-and-black ink drawings, on paper, one hand-coloured, most with titles, none signed, inlaid on grey card with borders ruled in red. (Some browning and line marking, some designs with three or four small holes in blank areas.) Early 19th-century blue morocco gilt by Lewis, spines directly-lettered in gilt: 'Animali Quadrupedi Disegni Originali di P.A. Novelli,' gilt turn-ins, gilt edges. Provenance: George Hibbert (1757-1837), sold May 1829, lot 5869, for £31-10-0 to Payne -- Beriah Botfield, acquired from Payne & Foss for £42 (P. & F. Acquisitions p. 66).
AN IMPORTANT SERIES OF DRAWINGS BY NOVELLI, which cast new light on the artist's work and the publishing history of the Descrizioni degli Animali. The Hibbert catalogue calls special attention to the 'Two hundred beautiful drawings in pen and ink, carefully mounted upon drawing paper, within coloured frames, superbly bound in blue morocco, with joints, by Lewis ... A very desirable acquisition for any Library of Natural History.' However, this 'most valuable and interesting Collection' is also an intriguing one since these zoological drawings constitute almost all the original designs for the 200 engravings in the Descrizioni degli Animali of Innocente Alessandri and Pietro Scattaglia, issued in Venice, 1771-1775. Based on Buffon, this rare 4-volume work, which appeared in monthly parts, is one of the finest Italian natural history books of the 18th century, some copies being hand-coloured. However, while the descriptive text has been attributed to Lodovico Leschi, Novelli's name has not previously been linked with the plates. These were unsigned, and the re-emergence of the original designs shows that Alessandri and Scattaglia had no hesitation in passing off Novelli's work as their own. On the published title-page, the plates are said to be not just engraved but designed -- 'disegnati, incisi e miniati al naturale' -- by the partnership of Alessandri and Scattaglia. The book is said to represent 'cinque interi anni di assiduo lavoro.' Yet neither the dedication to Prince Radzwill nor the preface mentions Novelli, even though the manuscript title-page to these drawings is unmistakeable evidence that they are entirely his own work.
Each engraved title to the four parts of the Descrizioni degli animali has the wording 'Animali quadrupedi' and a variant border of animal heads. The border to Novelli's manuscript title-page is the one used for the engraved title of volume IV; the designs for the other three borders are not present among the drawings. There are also 4 plates for which no drawings are present: II. Lionessa; VII. Mufione; XXXVII. Gatto d'Angora and LI. Cavallo. Conversely, among the drawings, there are three unused designs: no. 2. Cavallo (an entirely different design to plate LI); no. 3. Cavallo Barbaro; and no. 136. Porcellino di latte. The one hand-coloured drawing (no. 17) is untitled but corresponds to plate IV Pantera maschio. For the most part, the designs have been copied with extreme fidelity by the engravers, whose main contribution is to add tone and texture. However, the occasional changes do suggest that Novelli's drawings were subject to review before being engraved, some alterations being undertaken by the artist himself, others by Alessandri and Scattaglia as the engravers.
Examples of drawings altered by Novelli prior to engraving are no. 24 where the tail of the linx is remodelled, and no. 108 where the greyhound's head has been redrawn. Minor details added to the drawings in brown ink and reproduced in the engravings appear to be by a different hand (see drawing no. 68, for example). Changes which appear in the plates have either been made to improve anatomical accuracy or alter the overall balance of a composition. A comparison of drawing no. 8 Bison with plate XII Bison Giubato shows that in the latter the central tuft of hair above the bison's forehead is omitted, while much shaggier hair appears on its chin and fore-legs. Plate 14 Rhinoceronte corresponds to drawing no. 9; but the foreground has been changed, a second rhino and an elephant have been introduced in the background to show their comparative size, and the armour of the rhino is straight-edged instead of rounded as in the drawing. Drawing 126 Topo includes a cart wheel in the background, but in plate LXXVII this detail has been omitted. Similarly, the inclined larch tree forming part of the background in drawing no. 119 is omitted in plate CVII. Drawing no. 135 shows Porco de Siam with one front leg raised in the air, but two alternative postions for the weakly-drawn leg have been outlined, one in pencil, one in red crayon, presumably by the engraver since in plate LXXXII the animal has both front legs placed firmly on the ground. Most dramatic of all is the difference between drawing no. 179 and plate CXIII: both show a small rodent Aguti standing on a tree trunk. But in the plate the animal has put on pounds of weight and lost its long stripey tail; again a red crayon outline marks the engraver's intention to change the drawing. All the plates carry the name of the mammal depicted. Some names have been altered from the drawings, again suggesting careful revision prior to publication.
The artistic career of Antonio Novelli is inextricably linked with Venice, the city where he was born in 1729, and where he died on 13 January, 1804. As a painter, etcher and engraver, he favoured a purity of line without heavy chiaroscuro; he was also a poet. Without quite enough talent to lead in any one field, he had the important ability to satisfy public taste. Much of his work was dedicated to theological subjects, particularly decorative frescoes and altarpieces, but though a less prominent illustrator than Zatta, for whom he sometimes engraved, he also contributed to various encyclopaedic publications. In these zoological drawings, his skills of presentation are evident in the naturalistic settings derived from Stefano della Bella and Marco Ricci. Not only rocks and flora, but ruins, broken fences or crumbling buildings are often introduced. In the use of tree stumps or fallen trunks, emphasising the mixed pattern of growth and decay, there is a further debt to Domenico Maria Zillotti. For the figures themselves, Ridinger was clearly one source of inspiration. While admittedly theatrical in manner, Novelli never fails to command interest. His portrayal of large and small mammals in naturalistic settings is charming and enduringly effective. Cf. Nissen ZBI 79; Morazzoni Il libro illustrato Veneziano del Settecento p. 208. (3)