By Costanza Beltrami

Painter Pompeo Mariani was born on 9 September 1857 in Monza. His maternal grandfather and uncle Giosué and Mosé Bianchi were painters, yet he initially worked as a banker in Milan. Here he hang out at all the right places, such as the caffè Cova and the theatres Dal Verme and alla Scala, and soon became acquainted with the leading artistic and cultural circles of the time.

An amateur caricaturist, in 1878 he was sacked from his bank job because of an unflattering drawing of his boss. Keeping his family in the dark, he started attending secret painting lessons from Eleuterio Pagliano, who soon convinced Mosé Bianchi and the rest of the Mariani family of Pompeo’s artistic skill.

Allowed to follow his passion, Pompeo left Italy for a sketching trip to Egypt, collecting pages and pages of drawings which became the basis for many later compositions. Several of these were exhibited at the Expositions of Milan (1881 and 1882), Rome (1883) and Nice (1883), where they sold well, marking the beginning of Pompeo’s success. In the following years, he experimented with portrait painting, realizing works such as Lady Thea Rossi (1882, Bordighera, Fondazione Pompeo Mariani) and My mother in the garden (1883, Milano, Galleria civica d’arte moderna). He also spent time photographing and painting the harbor of Genoa at different hours of the day and night, an interest which peaked with the award-winning Salute to the Dying Sun (1884, Collezione Intesa Banca commerciale italiana). While the portraits reveal the influence of scapigliatura, these marine landscapes evoke Netherlandish painting, revealing the extent of Pompeo’s international artistic contacts.

Pompeo’s success continued in the following years, when he was twice commissioned to portray King Umberto I. The royal family and the Ministry of Public Education also collected works produced for the open market, including a rare history painting, Garibaldi’s departure from the cliffs of Quarto (1892, Roma, Galleria nazionale d’arte moderna). The artist’s works were also exhibited overseas, at the international exhibitions of New York (1890) and Chicago (1893).

In the last decades of the nineteenth century Pompeo lived in Bordighera, then an élite seaside destination on the Ligurian Riviera, where he received profitable high-profile commissions. There he met his future wife, the opera singer Marcellina Caronni, known as Nana, and settled in a large villa, known as La Specola, where he displayed his own artworks and his impressive collection of objects d’art, Cartier and Tiffany jewels, and artworks by artists as Giampietrino, Gherardo delle Notti, Tiepolo, David, Goya, Courbet, Degas,…

Well-respected and successful, Pompeo died in his villa on 25 January 1925.

Reference: Rossella Canuti, ‘MARIANI, Pompeo,’ Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, vol. 70 (2008),

Seascape at Bordighera, oil on panel, 1908, Artgate Fondazione Cariplo. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Olive Trees in Bordighera, oil on canvas, 1917, Artgate Fondazione Cariplo. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Rice fields at Zelata,1896, Gallerie di Piazza Scala, Milan. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Nana painting, oil on canvas, 1898, Istituto Internazionale di Studi Liguri. Source: Wikimedia Commons. 

To see more paintings by this artist, visit the online exhibition designed by the Fondazione Pompeo Mariani.

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