One of the most famous Italian works of the 19th century, its uninterrupted display in the Galleria Nazionale played a big part in its visual success which, in turn, led to the restoration of its historical memory by art critics in the last 20 years.
Hayez's inspiration for representing the Sicilian rebellion against Angevin rule in the Easter of 1282 was Jean Charles Léonard de Sismondi's "The History of the Italian Republics in the Middle Ages" (1817–19), which the painter had in his library.
"A beautiful and noble damsel was walking to church with her husband and brothers"
"when a Frenchman insolently frisked her breasts under the pretext of checking if she was carrying concealed weapons. The young lady collapsed into her husband's arms, and one of her brothers killed the Frenchman with his own sword."
The first version (1822) was commissioned by the Marchioness Visconti d’Aragona, and the second (1826) by the Count of Arese, who was a patriot and an important client on the Lombardy art scene.
In 1844 Hayez took on the theme once again at the request of Vincenzo Ruffo, Prince of Sant'Antimo, who was collecting works by the most influential modern painters and sculptors in his prestigious Neapolitan mansion. Having traveled to Sicily to study the environment, Hayez reworked his representation again, this time applying the filter of the expertise he gained through contact with the purism of the Munich School.
The painting won the appreciation of its patron and of commentators, who remarked on the ability of the artist's pictorial language to bring together Tuscan design, Venetian color, and a vigor worthy of Michelangelo.
I vespri siciliani by Francesco HayezLa Galleria Nazionale
(Dalbono, 1853) (Elena Di Majo).
Ref. Mazzocca, 1994, pp. 289–291 ord. doc. Fleres post 1920 (Colasanti, 1923; Fleres)