After studying at the Florence Academy of Fine Arts, he then served as a volunteer in the first war of independence, during which he was taken prisoner by the Austrian troops. Having returned to Florence, he won the Triennale prize for the painting of the Resurrection of Lazarus in 1849, and presented works for the following years on historical and literary subjects at the exhibitions of the Florentine Società Promotrice di Belle Arti, which was led by Filippo Palizzi.
Associated with the Macchiaioli group of painters gravitating around the Caffè Michelangiolo, he achieved great success with The Expulsion of the Duke of Athens (Florence, Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Palazzo Pitti), exhibited in Florence at the city’s first Esposizione Nazionale in 1861 and was awarded a prize in Paris in 1867. This painting represents the expulsion in the 14th century by the Florentines of the tyrannical ruler of Florence, Walter VI, Count of Brienne and former Duke of Athens. An allegorical fresco (after 1343) of the event had been memorialized in the Palazzo Vecchio by Orcagna, who had lived through the events. In Ussi's time, the medieval events took on new patriotic connotations as the Italian Kingdom was being founded.
Having visited Egypt in 1869 on the occasion of the opening of the Suez Canal and returned there in 1872 by invitation of the Khedive, he accompanied an Italian diplomatic delegation to Morocco in 1875. The numerous drawings made during these travels provided material also in later years for a very successful series of paintings on Eastern (orientalist) subjects.
The Viceroy of Egypt commissioned a large canvas depicting: The Feast of the Carpet or Pilgirmage to Mecca. In 1880, in Turin he displayed La Scorta del governatore Ben Alida ed il giovanetto suo figlio che precedono l'Ambasciata italiana; Morrocan Fantasy in honor of the Italian Embassy; and The Arab Family in the Desert. In 1881 in Milan, in 1881, he exhibited Celebration of Mohammed in Tangier, another orientalist genre painting. He also displayed Un intermediario d'amore. Among his other works are Arab Cavalry; Fantasia araba attorno all'Ambasciata italiana al Marocco; Festa a Fez, data dall'Imperatore del Marocco; Araba al fonte; and Un Dervish in pompa solenne.
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- Laura Casone, Stefano Ussi, online catalogue Artgate by Fondazione Cariplo, 2010, CC BY-SA (source for biography).
- ‘‘Dizionario degli Artisti Italiani Viventi: pittori, scultori, e Architetti.’’, by Angelo de Gubernatis. Tipe dei Successori Le Monnier, 1889, page 531-2.
- De Gubernatis; pages 532-34.