Giovanni Battista Bagutti was born in Rovio (on the road leading from the Lugano Lake to the Intelvi Valley and Lake Como) on 6 April 1742, into a family about which little is known. Rovio is a small town that, like many in the region on both sides of the border, does not lack a considerable tradition of craftsmen and artists. In 1763 he enrolled at the most prestigious “modern” Academy in Northern Italy, precisely in Parma, where he met some other artists from “Ticino” whom he contacted occasionally. Among them, he shared his training and taste for the new Neoclassical style particularly with Architect Simone Cantoni, the ornamentalist Giocondo Albertolli and the artist Domenico Pozzi.
By following modern trends he won the first prize for painting with the work Deianira (1765). He undoubtedly spent a few years in Rome, following a training rationale and the tradition of his countrymen who had worked in the City. Like them he had to look for employment to the North of the Alps, though his presence is only witnessed later, in 1802, in the parish church of Altdorf, while he was in Genoa in 1777.
His activity seems to have almost entirely been carried out in the Canton, particularly to the south of Ceresio, with only one presence in Mesolcina. Expert in frescoes, works such as the medallions on the ceiling of the Church of St. John in Mendrisio (1774) reveal his intention to recover the bright lightness of the best European Rococo style, in this case clearly inspired by the production of Carlo Innocenzo Carloni from the Intelvi Valley. On the other hand, in other works, especially painted on the easel or in the “transparents,” he expertly reconciled the 18th century tradition with some classical rigour that was decidedly more updated.
He produced several works for ecclesiastical buildings (the few reliable purchasers present in the Canton), with religious subjects that often reveal a lively and complex narrative taste. He has also left us a mythological scene in the hall of Palazzo Petrucci in Maroggia (later College of Don Bosco), a Sacrifice of Iphigenia in the Museum of Mendrisio, and a few portraits, including the interesting one of Alfonso Turconi, the count from Como who donated the Mendrisio Hospital.
At least one of his children, Abbondio, became an artist. Some “transparents” are attributed to him, without absolute certainty, considering that the frescoes in the Church of St. Sisinius in Mendrisio, performed in 1816 beside the other presumed author of “transparents,” Francesco Catenazzi, are his best comparative works. Perhaps this is why both are deemed to be Giovan Battista's students.
Bagutti died in Rovio on 28 November 1823.
In 1994 the Züst Art Gallery in Rancate dedicated an exhibition to him. The catalogue was edited by Edoardo Augustoni and Ivano Proserpi.