Dipartimento di studi letterari, filosofici e di storia dell’arte
Dipartimento di studi letterari, filosofici e di storia dell’arte
Procura Generale Confederazione dell'Oratorio di San Filippo Neri
Procura Generale Confederazione dell'Oratorio di San Filippo Neri



Drawing Europe

Padre Resta Project


Collecting, trade and language of drawings in

early modern Europe (XVII-XVIII centuries)


Collezionismo, mercato e linguaggio dei disegni

in Europa tra Sei e Settecento




The main objective of the project is to fill an essential gap in the art-history studies about drawing: the lack of a complete and truthful vision of birth and development of drawings collecting in Italy and Europe between the 17th and 18th centuries. The key figure through and about whom the research will be conducted is that of the collector and connoisseur Sebastiano Resta (Milan, 1635 - Rome, 1714), who is considered by critics the father of the connoisseurship of drawings. His activities, not yet studied and understood by scholars as a whole, had crucial consequences in the fields of collecting and in the market of drawings, as well as other sectors of the artistic culture of that period. 


Research will be conducted by a research team organized on the basis of the geographic macro-areas and cultural contexts in which Resta was active and where drawings and documents are now preserved. Beyond the principal investigator, Francesco Grisolia, who brings his experience in the fields of drawings, collecting, artistic literature, letters, in managing a web portal and an online journal, a team of scholars specialized in the same field will be part of the research project. 


More than 5000 drawings were collected by Resta, a good part of which today is distributed over collections all over the world, while some of the original volumes are preserved. The drawings will be figured out with the objective to reconstruct the remaining volumes in which the sheets were arranged. Particular care will be given to the art-historical analysis of the drawings, to their provenance, to the collector’s choices and display criteria.


Resta’s numerous letters, scattered all over Italy, will be gathered and studied, as well as the many documents related to his activities.


In that way it will be possible to analyze and understand: 

- the context in which Resta grew up in Milan in the central years of the 17th century and the long period he spent in Rome as an Oratorian until his death, with many trips in southern and northern Italy;

- his most dense network of relations with collectors, art dealers, patrons, art theorists and historiographers, among which Italian, English, Spanish, French, German and Swiss, many of them fundamental personalities in their own fields.



The art-historical, collecting and social perspectives will be combined with the support of other academic disciplines: history of economy and history of language. All the research materials and the


shared results will enable the two intended scholars of this sectors to examine in depth and clarify: 

- the role of Resta and his collection in the market of drawings from a point of view strictly linked to the history of economy;

- language, nomenclature and lexicon related to the world of drawing and drawings collections in the complex panorama of the history of language, not only Italian.


It is expected a full sharing with the scientific community of the results of research and issues, by the use of several instruments:

- a web portal dedicated to the project and to Resta’s personality, with databases and sections dedicated to: drawings, letters, footnotes, collector’s inscriptions and annotations, documents;

- the publication, both paper and e-book (Open Access), of research’s results in some volumes focused on the reconstruction of Resta’s books of drawings and their role in history of collecting as well as in art historiography. 



Through the interwoven study of documents and letters, inscriptions and footnotes, and once at the end of the identification of all the Resta drawings, we will obtain a more precise and complete idea of this figure, which cannot be reduced to a simple and ordinary collector. Even in light of the objectives we will outline later, Resta’s role within the history of connoisseurship of drawings, which is very precocious if compared to the chronology of famous English and French experts, is far from being fully understood.

Therefore, it will be possible to assess much better Resta’s contribution as a connoisseur, the impact of the connoisseurship and the influence of drawings collecting both within the coeval history of art and the artistic historiography. Thus an attempt is made to understand if and how the perception of an antique artist’s drawings could have influenced the arts and the artists as well as the theorists and the art writers of that time.



From about the 1680 until his death in 1714, Resta collected not less than 5000 drawings classified in more than thirty volumes, of which only a part survived intact was identified and published. One goal is to identify and to restore the many volumes, still lost and missing, which are preserved in Italian and foreign collections, whose existence is testified by documents, inventories, Resta’s letters and his inscriptions on drawings and on artistic literature texts. 

Beyond the single Resta drawings, whose presence in some museums is testified by scattered drawings and documents, many volumes are dismembered and their location is unknown, so that they have to be searched in public and private collections all over the world. Many of them are kept in several Italian collections, which are traditionally the least accurate in recording the provenance of the drawings. These ones will require in depth researches in the drawings cabinets of Florence, Milan, Naples, Rome, Turin, Venice.

The most known part of the Resta’s collection, which is far from being traced and studied as a whole, merged into eighteenth-century English collections. One of the main objectives of this research is, indeed, the restoration of the 14 volumes bought by the collector Lord Somers in the early years of the eighteenth century. Scattered sheets, coming above all from English collections, among which there are also the Somers ones, are in American collections, as well as in French, German and other European cabinets. Many of these cabinets are still waiting for an investigation aimed at tracing Resta’s provenance, as well as the drawings which passed through the art market.

After the complete identification of Resta’s drawings, the next step will consist in studying the single works of art closely from the art historical perspective. Among the artists there are crucial figures of the Italian history of art, from the fourteenth to the first half of the eighteenth century, and exponents of the different schools of transalpine countries. Among the already known and partially published volumes there are several drawings with wrong or uncertain attributions and anonymous sheets.



Letters and social aspects

Resta spent a hectic life establishing relations with the main personalities of his time who were interested in drawings: collectors, artists, patrons, theorists and art dealers are the protagonists of a


great amount of his letters, of his marginal notes on books and on his drawings. These aspects, which have implications in several fields of the research as well as in other subjects, are essential both


to restore the volumes and to fully understand Resta’s relations.


The complex relations established by Resta were partially analyzed by the scholars, but there are still a lot of material to be traced and analyzed, both as a whole and in light of a complete identification of the drawings. Among the most important letters are the ones which prove his contacts with the art market of different places in Italy like Milan, Corconio, Turin, Novara, Genoa, Venice, Bologna, Correggio, Florence, Naples. Then, it will be necessary to make clear his connections with the British context and art market but also his relation with Europe in general. 



Host Institution

Università degli Studi di Roma “Tor Vergata”, Dipartimento di Studi letterari, filosofici e di storia dell’arte (http://www.lettere.uniroma2.it).


Research Team

Francesco Grisolia (Principal Investigator)

Simonetta Prosperi Valenti Rodinò

Barbara Agosti

Carmelo Occhipinti

Maria Rosa Pizzoni

Michela Corso

Luca Pezzuto

Chiara Laquintana


Two curators of graphic collections strictly connected to the research argument, both well known for their studies in the field of old master drawings, have an active role in the project:

Giulio Bora (Milano, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe); Hugo Chapman (London, British Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings).


Other scholars, variously specialized in collecting of drawings/old master drawings, are connected to the research and to the research team.

The Padre Resta Project has the patronage of the Procura Generale Confederazione dell'Oratorio di San Filippo Neri (http://www.oratoriosanfilippo.org).