Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Louis-Jean Desprez, French (Auxerre 1743 - 1804 Stockholm)
The Procession of Saint Rosalia in Palermo
Other Titles
Alternate Title: The Procession of Saint Rosalie in Palermo, July 10, 1778
Work Type
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Watercolor, black ink, and graphite on off-white antique laid paper, laid down on wove paper, laid down on a matboard, framing line in black ink
20.9 x 34 cm (8 1/4 x 13 3/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: mount, verso, brown ink: Procession de Ste. Rosalie a Palerme / Des Prez
Sale, Christie’s, London, 20 March 1973, lot 137; Julius Böhler, Munich; private collection, Austria; sale, Kunsthaus Lempertz, Cologne, 22 November 2008, lot 1430; Didier Aaron et Cie, Paris, sold; to Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Marian H. Phinney Fund, Paul J. Sachs Memorial Fund, through the generosity of Virgilia Klein, Bunge North America Corporation, and David M. Leventhal, and the Drawing Department Acquisition Fund, inv. no. 2009.74
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Marian H. Phinney Fund, Paul J. Sachs Memorial Fund, through the generosity of Virgilia Klein, Bunge North America Corporation, and David M. Leventhal, and the Drawing Department Acquisition Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Best known for the spectacular theater and opera sets he designed in the 1780s and 1790s for the Swedish court, the painter and draftsman Louis-Jean Desprez established his career with drawings and watercolors produced for Abbé Richard de Saint-Non's "Voyages pittoresque: ou, Description des royaumes de Naples et de Sicilie" (Paris, 1781-86). A landmark in eighteenth-century book arts, the five-volume publication gave its name to the genre of often lavishly illustrated travelogues that appeared in its wake in Europe and Britain.

Although rich in cultural traditions and artifacts, in the mid-eighteenth century Naples and Sicily remained off the route of most grand tourists. From 1759 to 1761, Saint-Non traveled in southern Italy with Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Hubert Robert, and it was on the basis of their drawings that he initially undertook to produce an illustrated account of the treasures of the region. In 1777, he commissioned additional drawings, most of them executed by Desprez and Claude-Louis Chatelet. Desprez traveled to Sicily in May 1778 with Dominique Vivant-Denon--the future museum director, then a secretary in the French diplomatic service in Naples--whom Saint-Non commissioned to produce a text. They arrived in Palermo in time for the annual celebration of the feast of St. Rosalia in July--the event recorded in this watercolor. It depicts the large, ornate cars (floats) that constituted the centerpiece of the procession, surrounded by dozens of attendants and spectators, before the twelfth-century cathedral. Smoke from celebratory cannon-fire hangs over the crowd. The work displays Desprez's virtuosity at its best: the architecture and innumerable small figures rendered in minute detail, the smoke and clouds in a looser technique, and the teeming festivity recorded with a scenographic flair that predicts the artist's achievement as a designer of stage spectacles.

In the event, this view of the procession of St. Rosalia was not engraved for reproduction in the "Voyage pittoresque." Like many other Desprez watercolors of Naples and Sicily, this painstakingly wrought, pictorially finished composition was clearly intended as an independent work of art. A squared, ink-and-wash drawing of the cathedral and the empty piazza (Sweden, private collection) evidently served as a preparatory study for our watercolor.
Publication History

Petra Lamers, Il viaggio nel Sud dell'Abbé de Saint-Non: Il "Voyage pittoresque à Naples et en Sicile:" La genesi, i disegni preparatori, le incisioni, Electa Napoli (Naples, 1992), cat. no. 259c, pp. 260-62

Erik Henry Neil, Tomaso Maria Napoli 1659-1725: Un architetto Domenicano e il suo mondo, Flaccovio Editore (Palermo, 2012), pp. 60-61

Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Francesco Buccella, Sonia Couturier, Marie-Anne Dupuy-Vachey, Melissa Hyde, Suzanne Folds McCullagh, Isabelle Mayer-Michalon, and Xavier Salmon, Tradition & Transitions: Eighteenth-Century French Art from The Horvitz Collection, exh. cat., ed. Alvin L. Clark, Jr., The Horvitz Collection (2017), pp. 284, 529-n.8

Exhibition History

Recent Acquisitions, Part II: Building the Collection, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 06/19/2012 - 09/29/2012

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