Giuseppe Leone (Joseph Léon) Righini (Italian, circa 1820-1884)
Panorama of Belém do Pará, Brazil indistinctly signed 'J? Léon Righini' (lower right), pencil and wash 49 x 117.5cm (19 5/16 x 46 1/4in).
Relatively little is known about the life and career of Joseph Leon Righini, the foremost European artist of the 19th century to portray the Amazonian landscape. His date of birth is uncertain; however, considering he was exhibiting in Turin by 1844, it is likely he was born circa 1820. The son of an engraver, Pietro Righini, he studied under Pecheux at the Academy of Fine Arts in Turin. He travelled to Brazil from Genoa, employed as a scenery painter for Giuseppe Ramonda's Italian Opera Company.
We know Righini must have arrived in Brazil by 1856, the date of his first work there. He settled first in São Luis do Maranhao, and divided his three decades in Brazil between Belem, Sao Luis do Maranhao and Salvador; cities that he portrayed in beautifully detailed panaromas such as the present work. Righini was the greatest of the last wave of artists to portray Brazil in the mid-19th century; a time which photography was threatening the art of topography. He was likely the first foreign artist to paint the landscape of northern Brazil, although it is not for this alone that Righini deserves a place of distinction in relation to artists active in the 19th century in Brazil. Although his composition of the landscape of the forest follows the classical standard adopted before him by the Comte de Clarac and Henri Nicolas Vinet, by choosing the clearing as a vantage point, Righini was the first painter to observe the Amazon forest in person, which was only interpolated by Clarac and never explored by any of the great traveling artists before him.
Righini published a rare album of 12 engravings of Belem do Para in 1867 and we know he died in that city in 1884. The present work can be compared to the picture currently in the Museu Imperial of Rio de Janeiro and illustrated on page 219 of the exhibition catalogue for "O Olhar Distante" (The Distant View), 2000, Published by Fundação Bienal (Biennial Foundation) celebrating the 500 years of the "discovery" of Brazil by the Portuguese.