Rosalba Carriera, was an 18th C, Venetian Rococo painter; first specialising in miniatures and later finding fame with portraits in pastel.
She was best known for her innovative approach to pastels, which had previously been used for informal drawings and preparatory sketches. She was also credited with pastel, as a medium for serious portraiture; for the qualities of soft edges and flattering surfaces, that redefined the Rococo manner.
Coveted by kings and eulogised by poets, Rosalba Carriera; is remembered as one of the most successful women artists of the Roccoco and indeed, of any era.
Rosalbba Carriera. “Self-portrait Holding a Portrait of Her Sister“. 1709
(b.12 January 1673 – d.15 April 1757)
Enlightened upbringing. Rosalba Carriera was born in Venice, along with her two sisters, Giovanna and Angela.
Her family was from the lower-middle-class in Venice; her father was a lowly government worker and her mother Angela, an embroiderer.
The mother was clearly enlightened, when it came to the upbringing, education and career development of Rosalba and her two sisters.
As a child, Rosalba began her artistic career by making lace-patterns for her mother; who was engaged in that trade. However, when interests in lace waned and the industry began to falter; Carriera had to find a new means of providing for herself and her family.
The popularity of snuff-taking gave her the opportunity. Carriera began painting miniatures for the lids of snuff-boxes and was the first painter to use ivory, rather than vellum for this purpose. There is speculation that the French painter Jean Steve, encouraged her to make miniatures on ivory; for the lids of snuffboxes and that she received instruction in oil technique, from the Venetian painter Giuseppe Diamantini.
Portraits and Pastels. Gradually, this work evolved into portrait-painting, for which she pioneered the exclusive use of pastel. Prominent foreign visitors to Venice, diplomats and young sons of the nobility on the grand tour; 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 and August the Strong of Saxony, who acquired a large collection of her pastels.
By 1700, Carriera was already creating miniatures and by 1703 she completed her first pastel portraits.
In 1704, she was made an “Accademico di merito” by the Roman Accademia di San Luca, a title reserved for non-Roman painters.
“A Young Lady with a Parrot“, pastel on paper by Rosalba Carriera. (c.1730)
Leaving for Paris. By 1721, As Carriera’s popularity swept across Europe,she left Venice to spend eighteen months in Paris; where her portraits were in great demand.
While in Paris, Carriera was a guest of the great amateur painter and art collector, Pierre Crozat. She painted Watteau, all the royalty and nobility from King Louis XVth and the Regent downwards and was elected a member of the French Academy, by acclamation.
It was a shift in style, between what looked traditionally powerful, to a decorative style with international appeal. It has been claimed that she revolutionised the world of technology, by binding coloured chalk into sticks; which led to the development of a much wider range of prepared colours. This expanded the availability and the usefulness of the pastel medium.
Rosalba Carriera. “Portrait of Louis XV as Dauphin” (1720-1721)
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 Scottish financier and adventurer; to paint the ceiling of the Grand Salle, in Law’s new bank building.
Her reputation evolved, as Augustus III of Poland (1696-1763) purchased more than 150 works by the artist, while in England, she had a number of important followers; namely William Hoare of Bath, Francis Cotes and John Russell. King George III later purchased these pieces in 1762. That collection contained one of many of her self-portraits.
Rosalba undertook a lot of work, in order to support her family. 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.
Rosalba Carriera. Portrait of Antoine Watteau. (1721)
Her 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.
In the short time she spent in Paris, Carriera’s work contributed to forming the new aristocratic tastes of the court. She also influenced the tastes of Parisians; no longer did art serve only the monarchy’s needs. Her freedom, colourfulness and charms were injected into the Rococo style, which soon dominated the arts.
Return to Venice. Despite her triumph in Paris, she returned to her home on the Grand Canal, in 1721.
Carriera, with her sister Giovanna in tow, visited Modena, Parma and Vienna; being received with much enthusiasm, by rulers and courts.
Further success in Austria. Carriera made a long journey to the royal court in Vienna, Austria. Holy Emperor Charles VI, became her benefactor and was fully committed to supporting her work; amassing a large collection of more than 150 of her pastels.
In return, the empress received formal artistic training. The works she executed there, were later to form the basis of the large collection in the “Alte Meister Gallery” , in Dresden.
Rosalba Carriera “Crown Prince Friedrich Christian of Saxony“. (1739)
Depression and vision loss. After her sister Giovanna’s death in 1738, Carriera fell into a deep depression; which was not aided by the loss of her vision, some years later. She underwent two unsuccessful cataract surgeries, ending up losing her vision completely.
She outlived all her family, spending her last years in a small house in the Dorsoduro district of Venice; where she died at the age of 84.
Carriera shared her talents with her sisters Giovana and Angela and later in life, had female students such as Marianna Carlevarijs, Margherita Terzi and Felicità Sartori.
At the time of Rosalba’s death, the popularity of the Rococo style had waned. Despite this, she was still a strong influence for many of the women artists that came after her; such as Catherine Read, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard and Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun.
Rosalba Carriera “ Self Portrait” (1746).
Despite her renown and contribution to an established manner, Carriera is “often treated as an exception, a rarity as a woman artist” and very often ignored. When the Rococo era waned, Carriera’s name and her impact declined.
Carriera was the first female painter, to initiate a new style in the art community. The Rococo style emphasized the use of pastel colours; spontaneous brush strokes, dancing lights, subtle surface tonalities and a soft, elegant and charming approach to subject matter.
She was known for dragging the sides of white chalk across an under-drawing of darker tones; to capture the shimmering texture of lace and satin. She was also able to highlight facial features and the soft cascades of powdered hair. Because of her, artists created work in the style for nearly a century.
Carriera, had many patrons who were interested in her work. Her earliest known pastel portrait depicts the collector Anton Maria Zanetti (1700); who procured many works by the artist and promoted her to other collectors when he travelled throughout Europe. Joseph Smith was another one of her admirers and he too collected a great amount of her works. King George III later purchased these pieces in 1762. That collection contained one of many of her self-portraits.
Her best-known self-portrait, is one she contributed to the Medici collection of self-portraits at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. This piece was different because she veered away from idealising herself; as was a custom of the era. Instead, she was brusque and honest in her representation, featuring a larger nose, thin lips and a deep dimple in her chin. She holds a portrait of her sister and assistant Giovanna, whom she was very close to.
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” (1746), whose mismatched eyes, hint at the eye problems which plagued her in later life (above left).
Carriera was not just a portrait painter, even though that was her subject matter of choice due to her profession. She also created a few allegorical pieces, including ‘The Four Seasons’, ‘The Four Elements’ and ‘The Four Continents’ (left). These allegories were represented by beautiful, nymph like and barely clothed women; holding symbols that referenced the meaning of the piece.
Carriera was best known for her innovative approach to pastels, which had previously been used for informal drawings and preparatory sketches. She was also credited with pastel as a medium for serious portraiture that redefined the Rococo manner.
Please see my introductory post, on the Second Golden Age of Art: together with its most important artists:
Foreign Artists working in Venice
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