'A Very Bad Student'
“Proud despite my misery, I revolted: I took [Professor Gastaldi] by his jacket
and pushed him against the wall . . . ”
“Note Well: A Very Bad Student” –This notation, handwritten by Professor
Gastaldi, appears next to Tommaso Juglaris’s name in the registrar’s records
at the Accademia Albertina.
“Returning to my miserable studio I found a letter from Lanslebourg, Savoia [from a] painter I
had known painting the ceiling of a salon in Via Cernaja . . . He invited me to leave for Lanslebourg
immediately where he had a church to decorate. I had my passport made . . . and departed . . . I worked for
nearly three months…was paid handsome, treated like a lord. I was given a lovely declaration of
their full satisfaction, signed even by the mayor. I returned to Turin with about 1000 lire in my
pocket. I could breathe. I then believed myself to be an artist too.”
The personal words of King Vittorio Emanuele II on the scaffolding in the royal palace, encouraging further studies, were not lost on the young Juglaris. With the vision of formal training at an art academy still his ideal, Juglaris made one last attempt to complete art studies leading to a diploma or degree. He returned to night classes at the Accademia Albertina. Yet, despite daytime employment, he had little money to spare. His need for thrift forced him to paint on used canvases. When his esteemed professor, the aristocratic Andrea Gastaldi, loudly insulted him for this, Juglaris exploded and had to be restrained. Juglaris left the academy, never to return. He was 21 years old.
Determined and enthusiastic about his work, no matter how hard, Juglaris continued to make his way as a decorative artist and muralist without any diploma in hand. He took special pride in sets completed for the Royal Theater of Turin and murals executed for a parish church in Lanslebourg, France, an alpine town across the border from Italy. At the same time, Juglaris set his sights higher and dreamt of a career in fine art.
What is Academic Art?
The tradition of Academic Art emerged from art academies, like the Accademia Albertina, organized by various European governments, beginning in the 1500s and 1600s. The goal was to foster art that would add to national prestige but without threatening the power of the reigning authorities. Young artists, such as Juglaris, attending the academies were trained according to classical theories of Renaissance art. Prescribed for students was a “rational” aesthetic which required them to always choose a high-minded or moral subject-matter and to present it somewhat realistically. At the same time students were also expected to ground or infuse their work with classical, mythological, religious, or historical images, symbols, and allegory.
The academies had a clear, hierarchical sense of what was valuable in art, based on what art forms were the most useful in communicating a moral or uplifting message. Art was ranked accordingly, starting with the most valuable: (1) historical painting; (2) portrait painting; (3) genre painting – scenes of everyday life; (4) landscapes; and (5) still life painting. The academies also held that certain painterly techniques were superior to others. There were complex rules for students governing the use of line, point, mass, and color. Colors, for instance, had to be natural looking and bright colors were only to be incorporated sparingly. The finish of a painting mattered as well. Academic convention dictated that the painted surface was to be kept smooth without any visible brushstrokes. Generally known for their tough, demanding standards, the art academies allowed only a minimal latitude for artistic self-expression. The result were graduates more disposed to be conformist than individualistic in their approach to art, with technical prowess emphasized above originality. Although Juglaris largely embraced the ideals of academic art, he was temperamentally ill-suited for the rigidity of the classroom instruction that prevailed at the Accademia Albertina.