Riding the wave


Federico Gatti
Biography edited by Vladimir Valerio

Vladimiro Valerio
Department of History of Architecture
San Polo 2468 - Palazzo Badoer
30125 Venice
tel. + 39 041 2571 418
fax 041 715449

Federico Gatti

From the Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana, 52/1999.

The work of Federico Gatti is mainly known through his association with another famous Neapolitan lithographer , Gaetano Dura. However Gatti enjoyed some fame during his long career as a printer, even before his association with Dura, which is largely overlooked by contemporary artistic literature.

Nothing is known of his birth and his education. The first records date back to his collaboration in 1823 with the Litho workshop annexed to the Topographical Office in Naples. His first works include a portrait of Antonio Genovesi (25x22, signed and dated 1825), lithographed by Cuciniello and Bianchi, which is part of a collection of famous Neapolitan portraits. This work shows a certain artistic maturity, which allows him to compete with already famous artists in the same field: Gioacchino Forino, Gaetano Dura, Costanzo De Angelis, Nunzio Pacileo (Valerio 1998 , p. 25, and Ritratti e scene popolari, 1999). For the Military Lithography (in those early years also known as "War Lithography") Gatti created, in 1829, portraits of Maria Isabel of Bourbon (27x21) and Francis I (27x21), based on drawings by De Falco, while his signature appears on a portrait of the Duke of Calabria, the future King Ferdinand II (19x19).

The commissions he obtained from Royalty certainly were due to the prestige he had attained at the lithographic military establishment, where he was among the most active and respected collaborators. Of those years are also worth of praise the portrait of a naval battle (36x53), dated 1828, and a small beautiful view of Algiers (15x28), published in 1830 following the French conquest (July 1830), and included in the sales catalog of the Office.

Gatti was one of the main candidates to one of three posts added to the workforce at the Topographical Office of Naples, approved by royal decree in 1833. Gatti aspired to that position because of his ten year long activity within the Office and also enjoyed the support of the Office Director, Ferdinand Visconti. The post of second-class engraver, put out to tender in 1836, was assigned in 1839 to Joachim Forino, through the direct intercession of the King. Visconti, in expressing his regret for Gatti's failure in obtaining that position within the Office, described him as "one of the finest lithographers in Naples" (Valerio, 1993, p. 273).

However, since the early Thirties Gatti had founded his own lithographic establishment, as it appears from some popular prints: the "Dipper" (26x18), the "money-changer" (30x23), the "woman of Aversa" (30x23), plus other scenes of everyday life, were all made in 1833 based on the drawings by Gaetano Dura. Gatti lithographed, from drawings of P. Canna, several scenes of the ballets performed at the Teatro S. Carlo, all dedicated to Queen Maria Christina of Bourbon (died 1836).

Perhaps the delay of the competition and his disappointment at not entering the Officio led Gatti to associate with Dura, himself a competitor for a post as second class lithographer; together they established a prestigious lithographic workshop, most famous and appreciated of Italy. For over three decades they produced loose prints, portraits, collections of costumes and popular scenes, as well as almanacs, illustrations for books and music sheet, all printed and marketed in their workshop in Calata Gigante, nr 19. Among their early works we may mention a sheet music dated "Naples, October 1835" (Arrigoni and Bertarelli, No 329). His relations with the Topographical Office were not completely broken off, as shown by the publication in 1837 of the Carta della Frontiera del Regno "in two sheets, drawn by Benedetto Marzolla (89x53), attached to a report on boundary disputes with the State of the Church.

Between 1837 and 1838, they published fifty-two issues of the "Galleria Pittorica", a journal with portraits, scenes and various views (Ozzola, p. 26). In 1842, two tables were created for the Cenno Storico descrittivo della cittą di Castellammare, published in Florence. Gatti and Dura in 1844 collaborated to the Description of a trip to Rio de Janeiro, made by Eugenio Rodriguez, and signed the "View of the city of San Sebastian").

View of the city of St. Sebastian of Rio de Janeiro island Das Cobras

After his cooperation with Dura, however, it seems that his main activity consisted in reproductions and lithographes, rather than drawings and creation of subjects. His signature does not appear on products other than publications of the lithographic office. Among the few exceptions it is worth recalling the decorated part of the first sheet ("Definizioni di Geografia"), in 1851, of Bruno Colao's geographic atlas, published in 1859 ( Valerio 1980, p. 107).

Prior to 1835 he most probably produced some gouaches with popular scenes: Fishermen on the beach of Chaia, Macaroni Eaters, women at Mergellina are some of the subjects appeared in recent years on the antiques market. It is very likely that the gouache Vesuvius eruption of 1858, attributed to Gatti (mistakenly named Giovambattista), present at the exhibition on the Neapolitan gouaches, is only a colored lithograph, as suggested by the inscription "Gatti and Dura" which appears on the sheet (Neapolitan gouaches, I 52 and I 53). Gatti's activity requires, however, greater documentation and a more careful evaluation of his historical and artistic background.

After the Italian unification, the lithographic workshop of Dura and Gatti continued its activity, as shown by the collection of historical images related to the Italian Risorgimento, titled album 1861, based on drawings by Dura (copy in the Bertarelli collection, No 3378).