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Rosalba Zuanna Carriera (12 January 1673 – 15 April 1757) was a Venetian Rococo painter. In her younger years, she specialized in portrait miniatures. She later became known for her pastel work, a medium appealing to Rococo styles for its soft edges and flattering surfaces.
Born in Venice with two sisters, Rosalba Carriera was a prominent and greatly admired portrait artist of the Italian Rococo. Her family was from the lower-middle-class in Venice, and as a child, she began her artistic career by making lace-patterns for her mother, who was engaged in that trade. Others claim that she received initial instruction in oil technique from the Venetian painter Giuseppe Diamantini.
As snuff-taking became popular, Carriera began painting miniatures for the lids of snuff-boxes, and was the first painter to use ivory for this purpose. Gradually, this work evolved into portrait-painting, for which she pioneered the exclusive use of pastel. Prominent foreign visitors to Venice, young sons of the nobility on the grand tour and diplomats for example, clamoured to be painted by her. The portraits of her early period include those of Maximilian II of Bavaria; Frederick IV of Denmark; the 12 most beautiful Venetian court ladies; the "Artist and her Sister Naneta" (Uffizi); and August the Strong of Saxony, who acquired a large collection of her pastels.
By 1721, during Carriera's first trip to Paris, portraits by her were in great demand. While in Paris, as a guest of the great amateur and art collector, Pierre Crozat. She painted Watteau, all the royalty and nobility from the King and Regent downwards, and was elected a member of the Academy by acclamation. Her brother-in-law, the painter Antonio Pellegrini, married to her sister Angela, was also in Paris that year. Pellegrini was employed by John Law, a British financier and adventurer, to paint the ceiling of the Grand Salle in Law's new Bank building.
Carriera's other sister, Giovanna, and her mother, were members of the party in France. Both sisters, particularly Giovanna, helped her in painting the hundreds of portraits she was asked to execute. Carriera's diary of these 18 months in Paris was later published by her devoted admirer, Antonio Zanetti, the Abbé Vianelli, in 1793. Her extensive correspondence has also been published. She returned to Venice in 1721, visited Modena, Parma, and Vienna, and was received with much enthusiasm by rulers and courts.
In later life, Carriera made a long journey to the court of the Poland. The works she executed there were later to form the basis of the large collection in the Altemeister Gallery in Dresden. In 1705, she was made an 'Accademico di merito' by the Roman Accademia di San Luca, a title reserved for non-Roman painters.
Still immensely popular and in great demand (and, in effect, the wage-earner of her family), Carriera returned to Venice. Her portraits were highly refined and flattering, almost always consisting of a bust-length pose, with the body turned slightly away and the head turned to face the viewer. Carriera had an unusual ability to represent textures and patterns, faithfully re-creating fabrics, gold braid, lace, furs, jewels, hair and skin and show-casing the sumptuous, material life-style of her rich and influential patrons. Her self-portrait work diverges from typical expectations of women artists of the time by aiming for an unvarnished appearance. One such example is Self-Portrait as an Old Woman(c.1746), whose mismatched eyes hint at the eye problems which plagued her in later life.
The last years of Carriera's long life were tragic, as her sight, which might have been damaged by miniature-painting in her youth, deserted her completely, and she went blind. She endured two unsuccessful cataract operations. She outlived all her family, spending her last years in a little house in the Dorsoduro district of Venice, where she died at the age of 84.
In Prideaux Place, Padstow, Cornwall, there is a charming portrait by Carriera of Humphrey Prideaux, the archetypal gentry son pictured on his "Grand Tour," in which a love-letter from Carriera to the sitter is reputed to have been hidden behind the frame. She had many male friends and many aristocratic admirers of her talent.
Jeffares, Neil. "Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800". http://www.pastellists.com.
"Rosalba Carriera". http://www.finestresullarte.info/.
Hobbes, James R. (1849). Picture collector's manual adapted to the professional man, and the amateur. T&W Boone, 29 Bond Street. p. 74.
Rosalba Carriera by Bernardina Sani, Umberto Allemandi & co. Ed. (1988), as reviewed by Francis Russell, The Burlington Magazine (1989) p857
New International Encyclopedia
New International Encyclopedia
Rosalba Carriera: lettere, diari, frammenti by Bernardina Sani, Leo S. Olschski ed., Firenze (1985), as reviewed by Francis Haskell in The Burlington Magazine 1987. p122-123
Frances Borzello, Seeing Ourselves: Women's Self-Portraiture 1998
Sources of information
Consult the biographies of Sensier, with translation of her diary (Paris. 1865), Von Hoerschelmann (Leipzig, 1908), and Malamani (Milan, 1910).
Sensier's (highly annotated) version of her journal of two years in Paris (1720-1721) is available on-line in French:
Journal de Rosalba Carriera pendant son séjour à Paris en 1720 et 1721 / publié en italien par Vianelli ; trad., annoté et augm. d'une biographie et de documents inédits sur les artistes et les amateurs du temps, par Alfred Sensier: J. Techener (Paris) 1865
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