By Costanza Beltrami

Antiquarian, theorist and biographer Giovanni Pietro Bellori was born on 15 January 1613 in Rome. His family was neither wealthy nor educated: his parents were emigrant Lombard farmers. Bellori’s intelligence impressed the antiquarian Francesco angeloni (1559–1652), possibly an uncle, who adopted him. Thus, Bellori grew up in Angeloni’s private collection of classical and antiquarian objects, the Musaeum Romanum, popular among scholars and artists such as Nicholas Poussin (1594–1665), Bellori’s lifelong friend and painting teacher.

After his uncle’s death in 1654, Bellori started assembling his own art collection, acquiring coins, medals, and paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, Annibale Carracci. From 1670 he was curator of the classical collection of Pope Clement X, and from 1671 rector (secretary) of the Accademia di San Luca, where he promoted debate on art theory with a series of famous lectures. He established strong links between this institution and the Académie de France in Rome. In 1680, Bellori became the librarian and antiquary of Queen Christina of Sweden after her abdication and exile. He died in 1690, and was buried in San Isidoro, Rome.

Bellori’s greatest achievement was a collection of lives of contemporary artists, Le vite de’ pittori, scultori et architetti moderni(1672), written to emulate and complete the work of Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574). Bellori was also motivated by spite against another Roman art historian, Giovanni Baglione (1566–1643), whose “mistakes” Bellori wished to correct. The Vite were dedicated to Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619–1683), Minister of Finance during the reign of Louis XIV, patron of the arts and director of the Académie de France.

Reference: “Bellori, Giovanni [Pietro],” Dictionary of Art Historians,

Carlo Maratta, Portrait of Giovanni Bellori, oil on canvas, second half of the 17th century, Private collection.

Frontispiece of Giovanni Bellori, Le vite de’ pittori, scultori et architetti moderni(Rome, 1672).

Engraved portrait of Nicholas Poussin, from an 18th century edition of Bellori’s Lives: Giovanni Bellori, Le Vite De’ Pittori, Scultori Ed Architetti Moderni: Co’ Loro Ritratti Al Naturale(Rome, 1728).

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