|Aesthetica Preprint, 64 (April 2002)
There is not much information available about the work of Orfeo Boselli, sculptor, theoretician and restorer, and there is only very incomplete data also about his life and artistic production. Even though his name is mentionened in several texts of art criticism, he remains a rather shadowy and little-known figure in the context of 17th-century aesthetics. To this day, there are no studies specifically devoted to the reevaluation of the far from secondary role Boselli played in the theoretical debates of his times.
His volume Observations on Ancient Sculpture belongs to the tradition, started by 15th-century theoreticians, that aimed at bestowing intellectual value on the figurative arts by including them among the liberal arts. Boselli pursued this goal of demonstrating the "nobility" of sculpture also in the lesson (which has been reprinted in the Appendix to the present volume) that he gave in 1663 at the Accademia di San Luca, of which he was a member. Boselli, in fact, opposed the old prejudice that underplayed the importance of sculpture via-à-vis the other two figurative arts. That this prejudice was still prevalent in the 18th century is demonstrated by the fact that, despite the great achievements of Baroque sculpture (especially with such artists as Gian Lorenzo Bernini), Boselli's Observations is the only 17th-century treatise that deals specifically with the practical and theoretical aspects of sculpture as an art.
Along with more technical sections, Boselli's volume includes chapters that discuss, in remarkably original ways, aesthetic issues such as the theory of ideal beauty in connection with the baroque notion of "wonder", the figure of the "learned sculptor", and artistic representation in relation with the "theory of affections". Of particular importance is also Boselli's emphasis on restoration, which he presented for the first time as a profession in its own right possessing intellectual dignity and value.