The Correspondence of Artists in Rome, 1750–1850

Primary Contributors:

Maria Pia Donato and Serenella Rolfi Ožvald

Letter to Mr. Brenchly, Maidstone, Kent, by James Jefferys. c. 1771–75. (Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Print and Drawings collection, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven)

'Artists' Letters. Rome and Europe 1750–1850'

Lettere d’Artista. Roma e l’Europa 1750–1850/Lettres d’Artiste. Rome et l’Europe 1750–1850

The research project ‘Lettere d’Artista. Roma e l’Europa 1750–1850′ / ‘Lettres d’Artiste. Rome et l’Europe 1750–1850’ investigates the changing contours of the European art world through the correspondences of the artists living and working in Rome in the period spanning from 1750 to 1850.

In the late-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a truly cosmopolitan ‘Republic of the Arts’ took form across political and cultural borders. Rome was one of its major hubs. Artists from all over Europe and the Americas sojourned in the Eternal City for longer or shorter periods (indeed, some arrived and chose never to leave); they came into contact with each other and with a vibrant transnational community of connoisseurs, dealers, and grand-tourists, while remaining in touch with their family, amateur artists, and patrons back home. Rome offers a unique vantage point, therefore, to investigate the transformations that occurred during this period in the art market and artistic networks, as well as in patterns of patronage and artists’ education and training. Artists’ letters provide a unique source to capture such transformations and the changing social status and self-fashioning of artists from skilful artisans into fully fledged intellectuals.

Partners and Additional Contributors

The metadata for ‘Lettere d’Artista’ was collated by the research group Lettresart funded by the École française de Rome in collaboration with the Institut d’Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine, Università Roma Tre, Università di Macerata, Università G. D’Annunzio Chieti-Pescara, and Università della Svizzera Italiana. The collection of metadata was coordinated and supervised by Maria Pia Donato (CNRS) and Serenella Rolfi Ožvald (Università Roma Tre).

Metadata were collected from both printed editions of letters and unpublished correspondences by a team of scholars and students including Giovanna Capitelli, Tiziano Casola, Rosalba Dinoia, Sofia Ekman, Irina Emelianova, Ilenia Falbo, Noemi Forte, Annalisa Laganà, Carla Mazzarelli, Susanne A. Meyer, Teresa Montefusco, Gianmarco Nicoletti, Ludovica Scalzo, and Morena Vitellio.

Lettere d’Artista would like to thank Agnès Tricoche (CNRS-ENS Paris), Fabrice Jesné (EFR), Ilaria Miarelli Mariani (Università G. D’Annunzio Chieti-Pescara), and the students and staff of Cultural Heritage Lab/Digital Humanities Lab, Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici, Università Roma Tre.


‘Lettere d’artista’ records letters from and to artists living or sojourning in Rome in the period 1750–1850. To this day, the project has collected metadata for approximately 6,000 letters. More will be added in the course of time, as the project is, by its very nature, a work-in-progress.

Correspondents include male and female artists from several countries, both in Europe and overseas (especially Mexico and the United States of America); they are mostly, but not exclusively, painters and sculptors. Correspondences embrace letters sent to, and received from, family, patrons or fellow artists; they disclose details of the artists’ lives and work, life in Rome, the art market, and debates on aesthetics as well as politics and local culture.

The choice of the correspondences included in the project’s database is admittedly empirical. A list of artists living or sojourning in Rome in the period 1750–1850 was established; the project team then surveyed published and unpublished letters of the artists mentioned in the census and recorded the metadata for EMLO.

Large corpora of letters already available on-line, such as those of Bertel Thorvaldsen and Aloys Hirt, are not included.


Letters recorded in ‘Lettere d’Artista’ are either printed or unpublished. Collections of originals are held in repositories in Italy, Europe, and North America. The largest collections surveyed in the project database are held in Archivio di Stato di Roma, the British Library, Archivio di Stato di Lucca, Musée Paul Arbaud, and the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Further resources


Il carteggio d’artista. Fonti, questioni, ricerche tra XVII e XIX secolo, ed. Serenella Rolfi Ožvald and Carla Mazzarelli (Cinisello Balsamo: Silvana, 2019)

‘Lettere di Artista’, ed. Giovanna Capitelli and Serenella Rolfi Ožvald, Ricerche di storia dell’arte, 125 (2018).


Related Resources

L’École française de Rome

The Thorvaldsen Museum Archives

Aloys Hirt Briefwechsel und Amtliche Schriften


Launch Catalogue

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