Nonconformist Marco Benefial reacted against the popular late Baroque style and ennobled contemporary Roman painting with humanity and naturalism. In seeking to renew artists' study of nature and to return to the classical tradition of Annibale Carracci and Raphael, Benefial anticipated Neoclassicism.
When one of his paintings was rejected for exhibition at the Pantheon in 1703, Benefial displayed it in a pharmacist's window. In 1720, when he protested Pope Clement XI's decree that only Accademia di San Luca members could teach drawing, the ruling got revoked. Benefial's 1718 papal commission for a Roman church won him the title of Cavaliere. His paintings displayed tangible human figures, complex treatment of space, and warm, luminous colors. Along with frescoes and altarpieces, he painted numerous portraits. Because he partnered with inferior artists who then received credit, his paintings have often been misidentified.
When Benefial was finally elected into the Accademia di San Luca at age fifty-seven, he denounced its members' ignorance and mediocrity; he was expelled in 1755. His work then developed an almost crude realism.