Sebastiano Ricci was born in Belluno in 1659. At the age of fourteen, Sebastiano Ricci left his birthplace for Venice, where he soon entered the studio of Federico Cervelli (c. 1625 - before 1700), a Milanese painter active there since the mid-1650s. While contemporary biographers sometimes discounted Sebastiano's debt to Cervelli, modern scholars generally agree that the Milanese master gave him solid practical instruction and introduced him to the Venetian painters of the seventeenth century.
Prompted by the first of several well documented romantic misadventures, Sebastiano's departure for Bologna in the summer of 1681 initiated a fifteen-year period of intense study and work in Emilia, Lombardy, and Rome. While moving about in the pursuit of love or refuge from the law, Sebastiano availed himself of the opportunity to study the works of earlier masters and to seek commissions in which to apply and refine the lessons learned from them. In Bologna he gravitated toward the studio of Carlo Cignani (1628-1719), then the leading exponent of the Carracci tradition. In Parma he studied the sensuous color of Correggio (1495-1534) and Parmigianino (1503-1540), as well as their graceful, refined figure repertory. Supported by one of his most important Emilian patrons, Ranuccio II Farnese, Duke of Parma and Piacenza, Sebastiano went to Rome in 1691. Here he studied works of the great seicento decorators, the Carracci, Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669), Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647), Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709), and Luca Giordano (1634-1705), refining his own skills as a decorator, colorist, and manipulator of light effects.
The importance of Alessandro Magnasco (1667-1749) in Sebastiano's development remains a point of scholarly disagreement. Initial contact between Sebastiano and the younger Genoese artist may have occured as early as c. 1694 or perhaps later in Milan. Sebastiano's nephew Marco Ricci (1676-1729) is known to have worked with Magnasco and thus may have been a point of contact.
In 1696 Sebastiano returned for a brief period to Venice. While at work on numerous commissions, he resumed his study of the sixteenth-century Venetian masters, particularly Veronese. From this point onward, Sebastiano's works reveal careful exploration of Veronese's pure color and tonal highlights, expressive use of light, compositional schemas, and richness of costume, and the assimilation of these lessons into an already mature personal style formed during earlier years of travel.
After 1700, Sebastiano's fame was such that he was summoned to execute commissions in Vienna and in Florence. In 1713 he accompanied his nephew Marco to England, where he executed a number of major commissions, some in close collaboration with Marco. On the return trip to Venice in 1716, Sebastiano stopped in Paris, where he was accepted into the Académie Royale de Peinture. Back in Venice, the collaboration between Sebastiano as figure painter and Marco as specialist in architectural and landscape backgrounds continued and intensified during the 1720s. Sebastiano remained in Venice until his death in 1734 and never lacked for commissions from Venetian patrons or from such important foreign rulers as the Duke of Savoy and the Emperor Charles VI. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Zanetti, Anton Maria. Della pittura veneziana e delle oper pubbliche de' veneziani maestri. 1771. Reprint. Venice, 1972: 437-442.
von Derschau, Joachim. Sebastiano Ricci. Ein Beitrag zu den Anfängen der venezianischen Rokokomalerei. Heidelberg, 1922.
Daniels, Jeffery. Sebastiano Ricci. Hove, 1976.
Pilo, Giuseppe Maria. Sebastiano Ricci e la pittura veneziana del Settecento. Pordenone, 1976.
Moretti, Lino. "Documenti e appunti su Sebastiano Ricci." Saggi e Memorie di Storia dell'Arte 11 (1978): 96-125.
Rizzi, Aldo. Sebastiano Ricci. Exh. cat. Villa Manin di Passariano, Udine. Milan, 1989.
De Grazia, Diane, and Eric Garberson, with Edgar Peters Bowron, Peter M. Lukehart, and Mitchell Merling. Italian Paintings of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 223-224.