Pier Leone Ghezzi was the son of the painter Giuseppe Ghezzi and like his father was responsible for decorative frescoes, altarpieces, history paintings, and painted portraits. He is best known, however, for his drawn caricatures of Roman society, and he has even been described as the first professional caricaturist. He executed hundreds of these drawings, which take as their subjects figures from all levels of Roman society: high-ranking churchmen and aristocrats, but also the bureaucrats, craftsmen, artists, musicians, and laborers who served them, as well as visitors to Rome including British Grand Tourists and their tutors.
The present album of Ghezzi drawings is from a group of three that appeared on the art market in the early 1970s. Volumes 1.1 and 1.2 were disbound and the sheets scattered (some individual sheets as well as the binding of volume 1.1 are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art). This third volume, however, was preserved intact and includes more than 100 caricatures, forty-eight full-page portraits and sixty-four portrait busts.
The three albums were purchased by Robert M. Light of Boston from Valerian Wellesley, 8th Duke of Wellington (1915–2014). It is sometimes said that the albums were taken by Charles de Bourbon, King of Naples, to Spain when he returned there in 1759 to become King Charles III, and that they remained in the Spanish Royal Collection and were part of the Bonaparte collection captured by the 1st Duke of Wellington in 1813. As indicated on the title page,however, the collection was assembled in Rome in 1780, some two decades after Charles III returned to Spain, and there are no marks that suggest a Spanish provenance. It is unknown how the albums entered the Wellington collection.
Numerous other albums of Ghezzi drawings survive, as well as hundreds of sheets formerly collected together but long since dispersed. The Morgan also owns a number of individual caricature drawings by Ghezzi; most come not from the other ex-Wellington albums, but rather from an album of about sixty drawings purchased by Janos Scholz from Max A. Goldstein, which Scholz then broke up, keeping about ten drawings for himself, works later given to the Morgan.