Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Richard E. Spear


Caricature, Drawings, Pietro de Rossi, Giuseppe Maria Mitelli, Munich


A leather-bound album in the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich, is filled with one hundred and twenty caricature drawings. Although reference has often been made to them since their first publication in 1931, and various attempts, largely unsuccessful, have been made to attribute the drawings, they remain little studied and an enigma in the history of the art of caricature in Italy.

First, as I will propose through this study, it is crucial to the understanding of seventeenth-century caricature. Second, on the basis of a very close relationship between the drawings in Munich and a series of prints after designs by Pietro De Rossi, produced by the Bolognese artist Giuseppe Maria Mitelli in 1686, the Munich caricatures can, I believe, be attributed, with good reason, to Pietro De Rossi and dated between the 1670's and the mid 1680's, or around the time of the publication of the Mitelli prints. This dating places the drawings at an important juncture, or midpoint in the history of caricature. From the time of the invention of caricature itself in the very last years of the sixteenth century and throughout most of the seventeenth century, caricature was a private art practiced by an artist and enjoyed by only his most intimate circle of acquaintances, that is to say, the drawings were not widely circulated. In the eighteenth century and later, with the publication of caricatures in Rome and especially in England, it became an immensely popular and very public form of art.

Little is known about the activity of most caricaturists during the Seicento; for this and other reasons it is difficult to piece together the early history of caricature.

The greatest problem involved in creating such a history is simply the lack of physical evidence. There are, for instance, no known caricatures by Annibale Carracci, who not only was acknowledged in his time as a master of the art, but often is assumed to have been the inventor of the genre. A major loss are the many caricatures by Domenichino, whose activity as a caricaturist is documented by the biographer Giambattista Passeri but now is known only through one drawing in the Devonshire collection at Chatsworth. Those by Bernini are few, though we know that his caricatures were eagerly sought by members of the papal circle in Rome. The existence, therefore, of a large body of work by a single seventeenth-century artist, i.e., the caricature album in Munich, is a great rarity. Nonetheless, many other unpublished examples of Seicento caricatures probably remain scattered throughout the world.