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Luigi Celotti (c. 1768 - c. 1846)

Luigi Celotti was a Venetian abbot who became an art dealer after the Napoleonic invasion of Italy in 1796. In Rome when the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Library were looted in 1798, he purchased choir books and liturgical manuscripts from enterprising troops. Above all interested in illuminated miniatures, he cut the acquired volumes down, kept some of the leaves for himself and sold others to interested collectors. Although this practice would be considered scandalous today, Celotti was credited with establishing miniature collecting as a new collecting field at the time.

Vitruvian Man

Leonardo da Vinci
Vitruvian Man

Italy, c.1492
Gallerie dell' Accademia, Venice

Further to miniatures, Celotti also took an interest in old master drawings and paintings. It was through him, for example, that the Gallerie dell' Accademia in Venice acquired Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man in 1822 and the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence Hans Memling’s Portrait of a Man in 1836.

The 1822 sale must have made him quite a profit, as Celotti was trading in London in 1825. Here he consigned miniatures for auction, some at Christie’s, some at Sotheby’s. Indeed, it was his sale of more than 200 miniatures at Christie’s on 26 May 1825 which marked the arrival of a new sale category on the London art market. That these were considered an odd item to sell, however, is apparent from the sale catalogue, entitled

A Catalogue of a Highly Valuable and Extremely Curious Collection of Illumined Miniature Paintings taken from the Choir Books of the Papal Chapel in the Vatican during the French Revolution; and subsequently collected and brought to this Country by the Abate Celotti. London, Mr. Christie, May 26, 1825.

The catalogue also included an introduction by the recognized artist and art historian William Young Ottley, presumably to lend the sale some further credibility. Ottley sold his own collection of miniatures at Sotheby’s on 11-12 May 1838 and thus gave further impetus to what became a popular collecting field.

Miniature and borders from a Missal of Pope Clement VIICharles Brinsley Marlay (1831-1912) was one collector who took much interest in miniatures and it is due to him that the Fitzwilliam Museum holds such a rich collection of ‘Marlay Cuttings’ today. One of the cuttings Marlay bequeathed to the museum was originally part of one of the sixteenth-century Missals (A.I.9 or A.I.14) listed under Clement VII’s name in the early eighteenth-century inventory of the Sistine Chapel. Showing Pope Leo the Great worshiping the Virgin, it is known to have passed through Celotti’s hands.



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Miniature and borders from a Missal of Pope Clement VII: Pope Leo the Great worshiping the Virgin
Italy, c. 1523
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Marlay Cutting It. 35