Born in Naples, Irolli studied at the Instituto di Belle Arti under Gioacchino Toma and Federicco Maldarelli. Believing nature to be the best teacher, he interspersed his regular coursework with long excursions to the countryside, where he would paint what he saw around him in a mode not unlike that of the Impressionists. Working independently of any singular movement, he approached his craft armed with acute tendencies toward vibrant color and spontaneous brushwork, placing a heavy emphasis on the natural effects of light. His subjects were largely Neapolitan, often domestic and traditional within the scope of Italian genre painting. It was his modern approach, however-and his ability to portray quotidian scenes in what was quite literally a new light-that earned him the acclaim of critics and peers alike.
While Irolli served in the Italian military from 1880-1883, he still managed to paint and exhibit his work. He showed actively at international exhibitions beginning in the mid-1880s and continued to do so well through the 1930s; he exhibited for the last time a year before his death.
“When in a state of grace, guardian angels are drawn to us like bees drawn to nectar….”
L’Angelo Custode is a magnificient and rare canvas by the Italian master of light and painterly brushwork. Uncommon for Irolli to paint allegorical or religious subject matter, this work may have been intended for exhibition purposes. It transcends his tendency to depict everyday genre and light-hearted subject matter.
Guardian angels in the bible are devoted to a person – to protect, to guide, to rule, and to light. It’s possible that Irolli has approached the subject of a guardian angel in an almost Symbolist manner, where he has incredible light surrounding the young girl as the angel brings light to her soul and protects her as she veers toward adolescence. Irolli may be depicting the angel as the protector of the young girl’s fragile innocence, purity and beauty, hence the brilliant yellow color surrounding the figures.
The guardian angel has her finger pointed upward toward the heavens, which could indicate that she is guiding and ascending toward heaven with the young girl or protecting her at her hour of death or if she is in trouble. The chemise like clothing barely covering the girl could suggest that she has been sleeping, is sick in bed, or that she is dreaming. Whatever Irolli’s correct interpretation, the artist has an extraordinary color palette, use of highly impastic paint, and sophisticated use of impressionist light.
Private collection, Italy