Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini

Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini was one of the leading Venetian history painters, of the early 18th century. He travelled widely on commissions, creating graceful decorations, that were particularly successful with the aristocracy of central and northern Europe.

His style melded the Renaissance style of Paolo Veronese with the Baroque of Pietro da Cortona and Luca Giordano. The work of fellow Venetian Sebastiano Ricci, also had an important influence on his work.

He is also considered an important predecessor of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and one of his pupils was Antonio Visentini.

Pellegrino, married the sister of the renowned pastel portraitist, Rosalba Carriera.



Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini. Self Portrait (c.1717)

Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini. Self Portrait. (c. 1717).

(b. 29th April 1675 – d. 5th November, 1741)


Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini – LIFE


Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini was born in Venice. His father, also called Antonio, was a shoemaker from Padua.

He received his training in the workshop of Milanese painter Paolo Pagani; with whom he travelled to Moravia and Vienna in 1690.

In 1696, Pellegrini was back in Venice, where he painted his first surviving work, a fresco cycle in the Palazzetto Corner on Murano; with scenes from the life of Alexander the Great and allegorical themes on the ceiling. Here, his figure style is clearly derived from Pagani, but the effects of light and the free handling suggest the art of Giordano or even Cortona; whose work Pellegrini could not then have known.

The work of fellow Venetian Sebastiano Ricci, also had an important influence on his work.


Above: Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, “Alexander with the Corpse of Darius“, (1708)

He was in Rome from 1699 to 1701, before returning to Venice for two decorative projects, both on allegorical themes: one for the Scuola del Cristo and the other for the Palazzo Albrizzi. These works are deeply influenced by the art of Giordano and the late works of Giovanni Battista Gaulli; which he had seen in Rome.

In 1704, he married Angela Carriera, the sister of renowned pastel portraitist Rosalba Carriera. He remained in close contact with his sister-in-law, for the rest of his life.

In 1709, Pellegrini decorated the dome above the staircase at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco.


English period. He was in England from 1708 to 1713 and again briefly in 1719.  He and fellow artist, Marco Ricci, (Sebastiano Ricci’s nephew and pupil); were the first Venetian artists to work there. They arrived together, accompanying Charles Montagu the British ambassador to Venice and later, to be the 1st Duke of Manchester.

The visit was of decisive importance for him, because he established himself as one of the most sought-after decorative painters in Europe, during these years. He also designed theatre sets, together with Marco Ricci.

His first work in England, was probably the decoration (now destroyed) of the stair-well, in the Duke of Manchester’s house in Arlington Street, London.

In 1709 with Ricci, Pellegrini designed sets for Alessandro Scarlatti’s opera “Pirro e Demetrio” and for Giovanni Bononcini’s “Camilla“.

His most important large-scale decoration, was the cycle in Castle Howard, North Yorkshire; which was largely destroyed by fire in 1941. The cupola of the hall was filled by a dramatic painting of the “Fall of Phaeton” and the walls were decorated with mythological and allegorical scenes. By now the influence of Giordano and Gaulli had weakened and his style, with clear, light tones; was an entirely individual interpretation of the art of Paolo Veronese.

Left. “Rebecca at the Well” (1708-13).

This painting depicts a story taken from the Book of Genesis. Abraham had sent a servant to his homeland to find a bride for his son, Isaac. The servant came to a well, and waited for a woman kind enough to provide both him and his 10 camels with water: this woman would be the perfect bride for Isaac.

In 1713, he finished the decoration of the chapel and the stair-well of the Duke of Manchester’s country house, Kimbolton Castle. Pellegrini, provided the “Triumph of a Roman Emperor” on the walls and “Minerva“; which includes a portrait of the patron upheld by putti on the ceiling (both in situ). Again, the light and radiant colours are indebted to Veronese; the scene of musicians playing a fanfare, painted in a triangular area, is brilliantly accomplished; both as an independent work and as part of the whole. Michael Levey, describing Pellegrini’s paintings on the staircase at Kimbolton, said that although painted directly into the wall in oil; “they have all the spontaneity and lightness of fresco”.

Pellegrini’s third large-scale cycle from this period, probably done around 1709–10; consists of a series of mythological canvases originally intended for Burlington House, London and now in Narford Hall, Norfolk, for Sir Andrew Fontaine.

Pellegrini’s airy, illusionistic compositions, with their bright flickering colour and purely decorative intention, set a new standard of Rococo elegance for English decoration. His characteristic use of long, energetic brushstrokes and his confident application of paint; add a vibrancy and rich texture to the scene.

In London, he worked at 31 St James’s Square for the Duke of Portland, where George Vertue recorded in his notebooks: “the hall and Staircase and one or two of the great rooms“.

Pellegrini’s successful entry into English artistic circles was confirmed in 1711, when he became a founder-member and director of the country’s first school for art; Godfrey Kneller’s, Academy in Great Queen Street.

Pellegrini, also submitted designs for decorating the interior dome of the new St Paul’s Cathedral; however, he did not win the commission; losing out to Sir James Thornhill.  In compensation, he was said to have been Christopher Wren’s favourite painter and the art historian and critic Virtue; remarked that he was a – “A talle, proper man of a great deal of fire and vivacity”.


Above. Pellegrini “Modesty presenting painting at the academy” (1733)


Travel throughout Europe. Pellegrini subsequently travelled through Germany and the Netherlands, collecting Northern paintings as he went and completing works in many European cities.

Germany. On his way to Paris, Pellegrini stopped in Düsseldorf; where he was introduced to John William, Elector of the Palatinate.

The ambitious and luxury-loving Elector liked Pellegrini’s work and persuaded him to stay for three years; by commissioning decorations for the Wittelsbach country seat, Schloss Bensberg. In the autumn of 1713, he completed two ceiling paintings for the stair-wells, representing the “Fall of Phaeton” and the “Fall of the Giants” (both in situ).

In the following year, he started a series of large allegorical canvases celebrating the Elector’s rule and intended for one of the rooms of Schloss Bensberg. This series, now in Schloss Schleissheim, near Munich; is generally considered Pellegrini’s most important work. The large historical allegories show a clear relationship with the Medici cycles by Rubens (1622–5; Paris, Louvre) and Cortona (Florence, Pitti).

The similarity with the latter is unsurprising, in view of Johann Wilhelm’s marriage to a Medici princess, Anna Maria Luisa and the consequent contact between the courts of Florence and Düsseldorf.

Pellegrini would have become acquainted with Rubens’s work in England and again in the Elector’s collection at Düsseldorf. It is clear from the brilliantly coloured, festive paintings for the Schloss Bensberg, with their suggestion of grand opera; that he had been impressed by that master’s style.

The Netherlands. Having moved to the north Netherlands in 1717, he fulfilled at least one important commission in Amsterdam, for a ceiling in a house at the Herengracht (in situ; “Aikema and Mijnlieff“). In 1718, he worked in The Hague; on the decoration of the lower hall of the Mauritshuis (in situ).

While in Holland, Pellegrini met William Cadogan, 1st Earl Cadogan (1675–1726), who invited him to decorate his country house ( destroyed.) at Oakley, Bucks

Paris. In 1719, he returned to Venice in the winter of that year and on his way through Paris won the commission to decorate the ceiling of the Mississippi Gallery in the Banque Royale. To fulfil this commission, he returned to Paris between April 1720 and March 1721; accompanied by his wife, sister-in-law and Anton Maria Zanetti the elder.

In this project he created an elaborate allegory, celebrating the success of the bank and the glory of the King. The bank failed shortly thereafter and the painting (untraced) was removed.

In the early months of 1722, Pellegrini executed some of his most successful works, among them two altarpieces, “St Ulric Healing a Sick Man” and the “Virgin of the Rosary” (both in situ) for the Benedictine monastery of St Mang at Füssen, and in Venice the “Martyrdom of St Andrew” (San Stae); all of these are distinguished by brilliant colours and dissolving light.

Giovanni Antinio Pellegrini. “Massacre of the Innocents“. Pen and brown ink and wash, over red chalk on paper.

He was back in Paris in the summer and autumn of 1722; thereafter once more in Venice and in Würzburg in 1724.

In 1725, he worked in Dresden, where the lavish patronage of Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, was becoming renowned. His frescoes for Ubigau castle and the Zwinger pavilion are destroyed, but there are two surviving altarpieces. One is the “Trinity” (in situ) for the Catholic court chapel at Dresden and the other depicting “Christ Handing the Keys to St Peter” (Bautzen, Stadtmuseum.).

In the autumn and winter of 1725 Pellegrini stayed in Vienna, where he made important contacts and to which he returned in 1727; after a short trip to Italy in 1726.

Settling back in Venice. Pellegrini was now 55 years old and had travelled almost continuously for more than 20 years. He settled for his remaining years in Venice, where he executed commissions in and around the city. In 1735, he was paid for the delivery of an altarpiece, “St Catherine”, for the Santo in Padua (now in the library of the Santo). He undertook one more trip abroad in 1736–7 to work for the Elector Charles Philip (reg 1716–1742), who was related to Elector John William; on a series of four ceiling pieces in his Residenz in Mannheim. Like so much of Pellegrini’s work, these ceilings were destroyed by bombardment in World War II.

He died in Venice, on the  2nd November, 1741

Pellegrini had an important collection of Dutch art, which, after his death; was acquired by the English consul Vivian Smith.

His work was widely influential and played an important role in the formative years of Giambattista Tiepolo and Giovanni Antonio Guardi



Pellegrini is represented in the following collections: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; National Gallery, London; Louvre, Paris; Kunsthistorisches, Vienna; Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Courtauld Institute of Art, London; Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; Museo Correr, Venice; Museu de Arte de Sao Paolo, Brazil; Les Musee Ingres, Montauban.

Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini. The Fall of Phaeton, c.1712, Castle Howard


Please see my introductory post, on the Second Golden Age of Art: together with its most important artists: 

 Venetian Artists-18th Century

Foreign Artists working in Venice

Turner in Venice         Whistler in Venice

Monet in Venice



Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini    Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini    Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini    Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini








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