Italian sculptor based in England for many years. He received his training from Camillo Rusconi (1658–1728), a leading sculptor working in the late Baroque style. Possibly engaged in Rome in the antique sculpture restoration business, Guelfi seems to have come to the attention of English collectors and it is thought that one of these, either Lord Burlington or Lord Leominster, two of his early patrons, encouraged him to come to England. In 1721, Guelfi restored the Arundel Marbles, then in the possession of the 1st Earl of Fermor at Easton Neston (now Ashmolean Museum, Oxford). Many of the original works Guelfi worked on in England were executed in collaboration with established architects, chiefly James Gibbs and William Kent. The most important work in which he was involved is the monument designed by Gibbs to James Craggs, 1724–27, Westminster Abbey, the standing, cross-legged figure of the deceased leaning on an urn proving highly influential with, inter alios, Rysbrack and Scheemakers. Guelfi’s model, in terracotta, is in the Sir John Soane Museum. Guelfi was himself to adapt the idea in his own monuments to Thomas Watson Wentworth, 1725–30, York Minster, and, in a seated variant, to Edward Rich, Earl of Warwick and Holland, 1730, St Mary Abbots, Kensington. Guelfi worked for Burlington both in his London house and at Chiswick Villa, but their business relationship was terminated abruptly in 1734 and Guelfi returned to Italy, settling in Bologna. The split seems to have been acrimonious, contemporary descriptions of Guelfi’s difficult character providing a probable explanation.
Bibliography: T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, pp. 223–24; K.A. Esdaile, ‘Signor Guelfi, an Italian’, Burlington Magazine, November 1948, pp. 317–19, 321; F. Lloyd et al, Public Sculpture of Outer South and West London, Liverpool, 2011, pp. 120; Oxford Art Online – Grove Art Online; I. Roscoe et al, A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain 1660–1851, New Haven and London, 2009; M.I. Webb, ‘Giovanni Battista Guelfi: an Italian sculptor working in England’, Burlington Magazine, May 1955, pp. 138–45, 149.
Terry Cavanagh November 2022