This portrait was purchased in 1977 with grant assistance from the National Art Collections Fund
Pugnani (1731-98) was one of the outstanding Italian violinists and composers of the mid-eighteenth century. His teacher, G.B. Somis had been a pupil of Corelli, and Pugnani in turn taught Viotti. Although he was born and died in Turin and was a member of the Royal Orchestra there, he toured widely, and was conductor at the King's Theatre in London for two years (1767-9). When he returned in 1770 he was appointed first violinist in the royal band. He contributed to the development of his instrument, preferring thicker strings, and developing a straighter, longer bow (the archetto all Pugnani).
This portrait was perhaps executed by one of the court artists in Turin, after Pugnani's return from his trip to Paris in 1754. He is depicted wearing 'the official gala dress of a court musician serving the House of Savoy: light blue coat with wide ermine cuffs, and a white waistcoat edged with blue lace'. The mere existence of such a portrait reveals the esteem in which the sitter was held, but it also makes clear his two-fold talents through the inclusion of his violin (perhaps by Giuseppe Guanieri) and bow, and the printed and manuscript music, quill. This is both a distinguished performer and a composer. The printed music under the violin shows a printed first violin part to Pugnani's Trio Sonata Op. 1 No. 3 (published in Paris in 1754), while the other sheet bears a composition draft for an unidentified work in D major.
[Anonymous]: Gaetano Pugnani (Turin[?], 1754)
Oil on canvas, 120.5 x 89 cm.
Daniel Heartz, 'Portrait of a Court Musician: Gaetano Pugnani of Turin', Imago musicae, i (1984), 102-19.