Tuesday, October 30, 2012

With One of Her Sisters

Rosalba Carriera  "Self Portrait Holding a Picture of her Sister"   1715  Uffizi Gallery
 This pastel painting is also known as Artist and her Sister Naneta. But Carriera had two sisters, one named Angela and one named Giovanna. I don't know from which name the nickname "Naneta" is derived. If anyone out there knows, please let me know! Both Carriera's sisters were known to have assisted her at times in her studio. 

Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757) was an internationally acclaimed and admired portrait artist of the Italian Rococo. Her family was from the lower-middle-class in Venice, and it is said that she began her artistic career as a child by making lace patterns for her mother, who was engaged in the lacemaking trade. Perhaps as a result of her earliest training Carriera had an unusual ability to represent textures and patterns, faithfully re-creating rich fabrics, gold braid, lace, jewelry and furs, which showed off the opulent and materialistic life-style of her wealthy patrons.

It is not known definitively with whom she studied, but Carriera began painting snuff box lids, which were all the rage at this period, and gradually evolved from these tiny painted miniatures on ivory into making larger sized  portraits with pastel. In fact she was one of the pioneers of the pastel portrait in the 18th century and was respected by the other great artists of her day such as Antoine Watteau who famously posed for Carriera in the last year of his life.  That same year, in 1721, Carriera was elected to the French Royal Academy.

Rosalba Carriera  "Allegory of Painting" ca. 1720  National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 

This piece by Carriera (above) is often titled "Self-Portrait as the allegory of painting" but as there is almost no detectable resemblance between this painter's face and Carriera's own, seen in numerous self-portraits and drawings, I suspect this is incorrect. Or perhaps the artist did use a mirror rather than a model when she created this very stylized woman's portrait but representing an ideal rather than an actual person. Executed in pastel, you can see the progression of the artists's technique as she became ever lighter and more graceful in touch. It is gently ironic that this piece, singing the praises of painting was in fact executed in pastel. There has long been some debate as to which art category pastel work belongs, either drawing or painting. As always, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

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