Sixteen preparatory cartoons for the decor of the Collegio Artigianelli church by Enrico Reffo ( 1831-1917 )


Enrico Reffo

Torino 1831 – 1917

Discover the 16 cartoons, black chalk and pencil fixed with brush presented by Drawings-online

Born in Turin in 1831, Enrico Reffo was initiated by his father into goldsmithing, then followed, from the age of 22, evening classes of painters Alessandro Antonelli and Michele Cusa at the Accademia Albertina di Belle Arti. In the early years of his artistic activity, he participated in a few exhibitions by the Società Promotrice di belle Arti from Turin then set aside to devote himself almost entirely to sacred art. With the exception of a few portraits of friends, he essentially produced works where art and faith are linked. He briefly stayed in Rome, Florence, Bologna, Venice and Padua to study the masterpieces of religious art.

His brother, Don Eugenio ( 1843-1925 ), was a faithful collaborator of Saint Leonardo Murialdo who founded, in 1873, the Congregation of San Giuseppe within the Collegio Artigianelli to help poor boys in Turin.  Enrico set up his workshop there and taught drawing, painting and sculpture for free, creating a recognized school that continued for years. He became one of the most important Piedmontese painters of religious themes in the second half of the 19th century, devoting his teaching and painter activity to the Christian cause by carrying out numerous projects in the churches of Turin and its surroundings.  

For fifty years he painted almost exclusively for the Church, performing decorations, altarpieces and frescoes throughout Piedmont in private chapels, oratoria and churches in Varallo, Novara, Pinerolo, Giavegno, Vigone, Volpiano and especially Turin where he left the testimony of his passage in several buildings: San Domenico (Saint Lucia, Crucifix with the saints Thomas, Pierre martyr and Catherine de Siena), San Giovanni Evangelista ( central, choir and apse paintings ), San Filippo Neri (Virgin and child and saints), San Tommaso (The Immaculate Conception and the Franciscan Saints), San Secondo Martire (Retable from the chapel dedicated to Saint Joseph, Saint Agnes and The Way of the Cross), Santa Barbara (Madonna Rosary ), La Consolata (Saint Andrew) and La Salute (Sacred Heart triptych and Archanges Triptych). He also began decorating the interior walls of the Church of San Dalmazzo between 1895 and 1916.

Intense spirituality emerges from its models[ 1 ], offering a rare example of figurative painting from the second half of the 19th century in Italy. In 2011, the exhibition L’austera bellezza cartoni inediti di Enrico Reffo at the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Turin presented a set of preparatory drawings for the wall decorations produced by the artist for the apse of the church of San Giovanni Evangelista, for the sacristy of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul and for the Church of Santi Angeli Custodi in Turin. As Virginia Bertone defines, the art of Enrico Reffo portrays the values of faith with an « expressive language intertwined with severe and elegant purism »[ 2 ].

In his preparatory studies, Enrico Reffo shows his mastery of academic drawing recalling the works of the great masters of Florentine and Sienese art. He produced numerous sketches on paper and cardboard in large format where he first drew naked figures which he then wore draperies.

These musician angels are preparatory studies for ecoincon of the parietal decor of the church of the Collegio Artigianelli, greatly damaged by bombs during the Second World War, which is now abandoned. Thanks to a video reportage performed on ruined places in 2022, we discover the remains of frescoes ( from 2’25 ’ ’ of putti musicians in ecoincon, last testimonies of the decorative ensemble produced by Enrico Reffo.

Discover the 16 cartoons, black chalk and pencil fixed with brush presented by Drawings-online

[ 1 ] See. Claudio Daprà, Caterina Thellung de Courtelary, « Enrico Reffo ( 1831-1917 ). Pittore religioso tra Ottocento e Novecento. I suoi ditgni », in I Quaderni della Collezione civica d’arte, 28, Pinerolo, 1991, p. 40-43.

[ 2 ] See. Virginia Bertone, Wunderkammer. L’austera bellezza: cartoni inediti di Enrico Reffo dal Gabinetto, Fondazione Torino Musei, exhibition catalog, May 19-October 2, 2011, Torino, 2011.