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Bossi, Giuseppelocked

(b Busto Arsizio, Nov 11, 1777; d Milan, Dec 15, 1815).
  • Simonetta Prosperi Valenti Rodinò

Italian painter, collector and writer. He studied painting at the Accademia di Brera in Milan. Between 1785 and 1801 he lived in Rome, where he met such Neo-classical artists as Angelica Kauffman and Marianna Dionigi (1756–1826) as well as writers, scholars and archaeologists, notably Jean-Baptiste Séroux d’Agincourt, Giovanni Gherardo de Rossi (1754–1827) and Ennio Quirino Visconti. While in Rome he studied Antique and Renaissance works, making copies of the statues in the Museo Pio-Clementino and the frescoes by Raphael and Michelangelo in the Vatican, also furthering his studies of the nude in the Accademia di Domenico Conti and making anatomical drawings of corpses in the Ospedale della Consolazione. On his return to Milan in 1801 he became secretary to the Accademia di Brera, a post he held until 1807. During this period he devoted all his efforts to the restructuring of the Brera, providing it with new statutes and a major library and also founding the adjoining art gallery. He prevented numerous works from being smuggled abroad or dispersed and was responsible for their inclusion in the Pinacoteca di Brera. Among his most famous acquisitions were Raphael’s Marriage of the Virgin (1504; in situ) and the Virgin and Child by Giovanni Bellini (in situ).

In 1802 Bossi travelled to Lyon, where he met such painters as Jacques-Louis David, Anne-Louis Girodet and François Gérard. This led to a socio-political slant in his painting, as in the Italian Republic’s Gratitude to Napoleon (1802; Milan, Brera). He later diluted his youthful academicism with a more poetic and sensual style, as in his mythological frescoes The Night and the Dawn (1805–6; Erba, Como, Villa Amalia), which presage the development of his taste for Romanticism.

In Milan Bossi met such intellectuals as Giuseppe Parini, Pietro Verri and Alessandro Manzoni and people from the art world including Felice Giani, Vincenzo Camuccini, Conte Leopoldo Cicognara and, most significantly, Antonio Canova, who became a great friend and admirer of his work. In 1807 Prince Eugène de Beauharnais commissioned a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (c. 1495–7, Milan, S Maria delle Grazie), which gave Bossi an opportunity to carry out a detailed study of the work, both as an art historian and as a conservationist. The result was his most ambitious and learned publication, Del Cenacolo di Leonardo da Vinci (Milan, 1810).

Bossi was a passionate archaeologist, bibliophile and collector, constantly acquiring coins, paintings, sculpture, antiques and especially prints and drawings. His collection of prints served not so much to satisfy aesthetic needs as to provide documentary evidence to further his knowledge of art history. He was particularly interested in the Lombard school, collecting many drawings by Ambrogio Figino (then little known) and Leonardo, regarded as the founder of the school. He also owned a considerable body of drawings by Neo-classical artists, often given to him by such friends as Canova, Giuseppe Cades, Camuccini, Giuseppe Bernardino Bison (1762–1844), Andrea Appiani, Luigi Sabatelli and Giocondo Albertolli, as well as a collection of copies of Renaissance works by David Pierre Humbert de Superville that reveals an early interest in the Italian ‘Primitives’. His collection of 3092 drawings, prints and engravings was auctioned in 1818; it was acquired in 1820 by the Venetian abbot Luigi Celotti and in 1822 by the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice, where it remains in the Galleria dell’Accademia.


  • R. P. Ciardi, ed.: Giuseppe Bossi: Scritti sulle arti (Florence, 1982)


  • M. L. Gengaro: ‘Della critica d’arte di G. Bossi’, Archivio storico lombardo, 60 (1933), pp. 528–38
  • C. Pedretti: ‘I manoscritti Bossi all’Ambrosiana’, Raccolta vinciana, 19 (1962), pp. 294ff
  • Mostra dei disegni di Andrea Appiani e Giuseppe Bossi conservati nella Biblioteca dell’Accademia di Brera (exh. cat. by G. Ballo, Milan, Brera, 1966)
  • S. Samek Ludovici: Dizionario biografico degli italiani, 13 (Rome, 1971), pp. 314–19
  • A. Scotti: ‘L’Accademia di G. Bossi e le trasformazioni del periodo napoleonico, Brera 1776–1815’, Brera, 1776–1815: Nascita e sviluppo di una istitutione culturale milanese (Florence, 1979), pp. 49–67
Dizionario biografico degli italiani (Rome, 1960–)