Luigi Mussini was a Purist painter born in Berlin, who studied in Florence and had an active career in Siena. He portrayed himself in half-length painting, slightly turned to left from our point of view, while the face is portrayed frontally. The background is dark which this brings out the clear and clean face of the artist, who was about 45 years old at the time.
The man has well-groomed, stylish hair and beard and his suit as well reflects the fashion of the time. The painting was made around mid-nineteenth century. Mussini wears a white shirt with a black bow tied around his neck, and a jacket covered with a checkered work cloak in green and gray. In his hands – the right hand embellished with a dark stone ring – he holds his working tools, those of a painter.
The work was once attributed to Alessandro Franchi, but then returned to Mussini´s repertoire by Carlo del Bravo in the 1960s´. In fact, the Florentine scholar noted the physical similarities with other portraits of the artist and the style of his works of this period.
In the mid-century Luigi Mussini was one of the most important and appreciated representatives of the purist culture, which was emerging in Italy at that time. Purism represented simple and pure forms, admiring the artists of the early Renaissance, but it was also inspired by the works of contemporary Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, whose works Mussini had seen in Paris during his stay between 1848 and 1850. He saw his paintings and met also his students, in particular Jean Hippolyte Flandrin, with whom he deepened his research towards clear painting, characterized by pure design and very refined painting.
In the Self-portrait of Palazzo Pretorio Mussini seems to exceed the mere imitation of medieval style of the Nazarene painters, who he met in Rome and Florence and with whom he worked. The artist also exceeds the influence of Ingres, which can be seen here in the golden light that surrounds the figure, and of the clear Flemish portraiture of the 16th century, especially those of Hans Holbein. Here, in fact, Mussini has put together all these elements but he has also emphasized the extremely “purist” self-presentation, which is clear and sharp, as well as sentimental. The portrait expresses a remarkable naturalness and gives an intense, direct and deep image of the painter, with eyes that reflect his equally sincere soul.
The artist portrayed himself often and in fact, there are four other representation of himself known to date. Three of them are paintings: one at the Gallery of Modern Art in Palazzo Pitti in Florence, one at the Uffizi Gallery of Self-Portraits and a small preparatory cartoon, date 1868, preserved today in the collection of Monte dei Paschi di Siena. There is also a drawing, where the artist portrayed himself with a pen (1859). This image was used for the cover of Epistolario Artistico.
The painting was donated by Alessandro Franchi to the collections of Prato in memory of the painter in 1915.
Luigi Mussini was born in 1813 in Berlin. When he was only five years old his family moved to Florence, where Luigi studied music (his father was a composer) and drawing.
In 1830 he enrolled to the Accademia di Belle Arti of Florence where he studied under Pietro Benvenuti and Giuseppe Bezzuoli. He won many awards and competitions with his mythological paintings (Telemachus in Calypso’s cave, 1834) as well as religious and biblical paintings (Conversion of St. Paul, 1834, Samuel and King David of Israel, 1836) which already showed the first signs of his purism.
In 1840 he won a grant from the Accademia in Rome, where he stayed for four years in Villa Medici. There he met Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, who influenced a lot young Luigi.
In Rome Mussini studied the masterpieces of the 15th and 16th century. This was evident in his works of this period, such as La Musica Sacra (1841, Florence, Galleria Dell’Accademia) which was highly appreciated in Florence and linked to Perugino’s works.
In 1844 Mussini returned in Florence where he opened a studio at San Barnaba and began to paint his first independent works such as The Triumph of Truth (Milan, Accademia di Brera) which was immediately bought by Marquis Ala Ponzoni, who in that occasion invited the painter to Naples. Mussini stayed in Naples between 1845 and 1846. He returned to Florence and worked as a teacher in a school he founded in Via Santa Apollonia with Swiss painter Adolf con Sturler, who was also Ingres’ student during his period in Rome.
In 1848 he volunteered to fight with the revolutionaries, but only a year after, disappointed by the events, he traveled to Paris where he presented La Musica Sacra and the Triump of the Truth in the Salon of Paris in 1849. He received a medal for his works.
Mussini met again Ingres and his friend Ala Pinzoni, who introduced him to the cultural circles of Paris and put him in contact with artists like Jean-Léon Gérôme and Auguste Gendron. He painted a copy of La Musica Sacra for the French Government, which is today in Rodez (Musée des Beaux-Arts Denys-Puech) and began to paint I Parentali di Platone (Bourg en Bresse, Musée de Brou).
After Francesco Nenci’s death in November 1851 Mussini returned to Italy to work as a director in the Istituto di Belle Arti di Siena, where he worked until his death.
From the 1860s’ Mussini received important assignments regarding the protection of the Italian artistic heritage. From 1860 he became a member of the council of fine arts (later Giunta Superiore di Belle Arti) and from 1867 he was in the advisory commission of fine arts of Siena and Grosseto. He was a director in numerous award committees in Siena. His undisputed authority also led him to supervise artistic restorations. In 1880 he was elected as a member of the city council of Siena.
Among his most important works are Eudorus and Cymodoce (1855, Florence, Galleria d’Arte Moderna of Palazzo PItti) Les Martyrs of René del Chateaubrieand; Mater Dolorosa (1856, Siena, Museo Civico di Siena) tempera on panel with golden background, inspired by the works of the 15th century, Decamerone Senese (1858) and the portrait of Vittorio Emanuele II (1860, Siena, Palazzo Pubblico). Other works to mention are L’Odalisca (1862, Milan, Accademia di Brera) influenced by the works of Ingres, Spartan Education (1869, Mountauban, Musée Ingres) and one of the few Mussini’s religious works representing St. Crescentius; an altarpiece for the San Filippo altar in the Siena cathedral (1868).
Mussini died in Siena in 1888.
Prato’s Museo Civico is situated in the Palazzo Pretorio, in Piazza del Comune at the city center.
The first documents of the Palazzo date back to the end of the 13th century, when captain of the Guelfs, Francesco de’ Frescobaldi decided to purchase the building already owned by Pipini, to house the foreign magistrates, the court and the prisons. Between 1334 and 1338 the building was enlarged by Florentine craftsmen and the medieval appearance was changed. During the following centuries and especially in the 18th century a series of improvements were implemented finally until the late 19th century, when the building came under the demolition threat.
In 1912 an important restoration work led to the opening of the Galleria Comunale, which was previously housed in the Palazzo del Comune. The last restoration started in 1998 and it was finished in 2013. In September of the same year the museum reopened with the exhibition “From Donatello to Lippi. Officina pratese”.
The historical origins of the museum are linked to the decision of the grand duke of Tuscany, Leopold II, who wanted to create a collection of paintings for the students of the city’s drawing school (1788).
The collection was enriched thanks to various donations and purchases, until the official inauguration of the first exhibition organized by Giovanni Papini in 1912.
In 1926, thanks to Angiolo Badiani’s initiative, the State museum received their first assemblage of plaster casts by local sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini and in 1954 the museum was reopened with new layout, designed by Giuseppe Marchini.
In the late 1980s’ the gallery was closed for restoration work. During these years of improvements, the museum purchased the Crucifixion by Filippino Lippi and the altarpieces by Santi di Tito and Alessandro Allori were donated to the museum by Angela Riblet.
The museum holds many artworks, ranging from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. Among these there are the polyptych with the Stories of the Cintola by Bernardo Daddi, polyptychs by Giovanni da Milano and Lorenzo Monaco, Filippo Lippi’s Madonna del Ceppo and the Adoration of the Child and Vincenzo Ferrer, Filippino Lippi’s Annunciation with St. Julian, Mattia Preti’s Repudiation of Agar and the Cabins by Ardengo Soffici.
The collection includes also an important assemblage of sculptures of the most important artists of the time, among them Andrea della Robbia and Benedetto Buglioni.