Although Napoleone Nani was born in Venice, he is generally considered Veronese since he spent much of his career there and for about 25 years was director of the Accademia Cignaroli at Verona. As an artist, he was a supreme storyteller, his genre pictures portrayed imaginative, theatrical and every day scenes of people of all ages and of all walks of life. His work combined a dramatic use of light and colour with intense observation. He was also an extremely able portraitist, as witnessed by his head and shoulders self-portrait in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
The present work reflects one of his favourite subject matters, which revolved around the artist, his studio and model. As such, it compares with another of his oil paintings showing the artist and his model at the Museo Civico di Verona as well as his 'Studio del nudo' at the Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Florence. The latter also houses his painting 'Sorpresa', featuring models in a dressing room surprised by male visitors. The present painting also compares admirably with another of Nani's masterpieces entitled 'L'alloro' of 1870 in the Museo del Castello in Milan. In addition to several female onlookers, it features as here, the artist seated at his easel with a cast of the famous 'Venus de Medici' in the background. The antique marble statue was acquired by the Medici family in the late sixteenth or eabyy seventeenth century and was displayed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, where it remains today. It became one of the most celebrated examples of antique sculpture, revered as the most beautiful of Venuses and described by the English 17th century diarist John Evelyn as a 'miracle of art'.
Nani's painting is not only of superb quality but also of intrinsic interest, as it portrays the artist and his model. It also draws interesting parallels between the Antique beauty, i.e. the statue of Venus and the beautiful living model. Likewise Nani has also included an antique Etruscan-style vase placed beside a more contemporary majolica vase; one can possibly take this analogy further by comparing the older hanging tapestry in the background and the living brilliantly coloured parrot in the foreground. Given its size and the quality of its execution there is little doubt that this wonderful painting was an exhibition piece. It could have been one of a number of works including 'La posa', shown at Naples 1877, 'Lo studio dal vero', which hung at the Florentine Promotrice in 1883 or 'Lo Studio del Nudo' exhibited in Rome 1884. Alternatively it may have been his painting entitled 'Studio dal vero' or 'La modella' shown at Venice in 1887.
Nani was a keen exhibitor and contributed to a number of national shows, including those at Naples 1877 and Venice 1881, where he exhibited 'La macchina riposa, il cuore lavora'. In Rome 1888 he exhibited 'Il primo pensiero ai miei fiori' alongside 'Lo Studio del nudo', and the following year at Florence showed 'In assenza della maestra', featuring school children playing in the absence of their teacher. In addition to the above, from 1874 up until 1897 Nani contributed works to the other principle exhibitions held in Milan, Turin, Rome and Paris.
Though he acquired a strong following within his own country, he was perhaps more fully appreciated in America, especially in Chicago where his work found a ready market and sold for a high price. Native patrons and collectors of his work included the artist Trajano Chitarin (b.1864), probably one of his pupils at the Venice Accademia, who owned two works: 'Un ricordo' and 'Suonatori ambulanti'. Conte Giorgio Viola di Campalto of Venice was also a collector and owned 'Giuocatori di bocce' and 'Mascherata al ridotto'. In addition to his repute as an exhibitor and engraver Nani was also much admired as a teacher. He taught at the Venice Accademia and then in 1874 was asked to become director of the Accademia Cignaroli in Verona, where there still remains an institute named after him. As a teacher and mentor he acquired a great following among a new generation of artists, which included such figures as his friend Giacomo Favretto (1849-87), Vincenzo de Stefani (1859-1937), Luigi Nono (1850-1918), Alessandro Milesi (1856-1945) and Luigi Serena (1855-1911).