Pierre Subleyras’ work can be read as a brief treatise on 18th-century politics.
Pierre Subleyras, although born in France, spent most of his professional life in Italy, as he moved to Rome to work for Cardinal Valenti Gonzaga and Pope Benedict XIV, among others. In fact, he is often referred to, even among art historians (and particularly by specialists in sacred art) as “Pietro” Subleyras, the “italicized” form of his French name, Pierre. After a short stay in Naples in search of a much needed break from work – biographers would agree he was “exhausted by overwork,” a featured shared with some of the great figures of the history of art, Michelangelo in capite –– he went back to Rome, where he died.
A master of the late baroque and early Neo-Classicism, Subleyras counts among his best-known works the majestic altarpiece of St. Basil the Great in St. Peter’s Basilica. “The Mass of Saint Basil,” originally a painting, was turned into a mosaic by another artist, Pier Leone Ghezzi. There are also several different sketches and modelli of this final, definite piece, which show Subleyras’ exceptional painting skills. One of them, for instance, is in the collection of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.