Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Sunday, October 7, 2018

Rosalba Carriera, the "Most Famous Pastellist"

Rosalba Carriera (born 7 October 1675)

Born in Venice, Rosalba Carriera was the daughter of Andrea Carriera, a government clerk, and his wife, Alba Foresti, a lacemaker. Carriera is thought to have begun her career making lace-patterns for her mother. It may have been the decline in the lace trade that led to her change of medium: Carriera began painting miniature portraits on snuff boxes.

Rosalba Carriera, self-portrait
The self-taught Carriera was also an innovator, using ivory as the ground for her miniatures. In 1705, at the age of twenty-five, she earned recognition from (and a special membership in) the Accademia di San Luca in Rome.

She had also begun experimenting with using pastels for portraits, her earliest pastel dated to 1700. The medium had been used for informal studies or preparatory sketches, but Carriera is credited with the use of pastel for "serious portraiture." While many women artists contribute to the development of the medium of pastel, Germaine Greer notes, in The Obstacle Race, that "the exploration of the possibilities of pastel portraiture was advanced most" by Carrera's work. 

After 1708, art historian Neil Jeffares writes, Carriera "devoted herself particularly to pastel." Of the 440 surviving works now credited to  her, "three-quarters are in pastel."

Carriera's reputation as an artist grew as notable visitors to Venice sought her out for their portraits, including Maximilian of Bavaria, in 1704; Christian Ludwig of Mecklenburg, in 1706; Frederick IV of Denmark, in 1708-09; and the prince elector of Saxony, later Augustus III of Poland in 1713, when the young man was making a grand tour. In addition to a portrait of himself (in oil), he commissioned a series of allegorical works: The Four Seasons, The Four Elements, and The Four Continents. (He would later acquire 150 of her pastels and filled a room in his Dresden palace with her work.)

Spring, one of The Four Seasons,
National Gallery of Ireland
Also visiting her studio was a notable collector, the French banker Pierre Crozat. In 1720, at his suggestion, Carriera traveled to Paris, where she spent "a triumphant year," receiving commissions for some fifty portraits, including one of Louis XV. She was  elected to the French Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in that year, as well as to the Accademia Clementina in Bologna.
After leaving Paris, Carriera returned to Venice, but in 1723 she left for Modena, where she spent five months at the Este court. Back in Venice, one of her great patrons was the British consul, Joseph Smith--later, the work he commissioned from Carriera was acquired by King George III.

In 1730, Carriera again left Venice, this time for the court of Vienna, where she spent six months and fulfilled a number of commissions for Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, whose empress, Elisabeth Christine, became her pupil. But by 1737, her output began slowing--her sister Giovanna, who had traveled and worked with her, died, and her own eyesight began to fail. 

By 1745, Rosalba Carriera was blind. She lived in Venice, in Dosoduro, where she died in 1757, at the age of eighty-four. 

In describing Carriera's style, Jeffares notes her "distinctive vaporous style" and her "delicate and light palette." She was, above all, a "consummate artist."

The Getty Museum
Jeffares's comprehensive essay on Carriera, in the Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800, is readily accessible online (click here).

There is an excellent entry by Margherita Giacometti in the Dictionary of Women Artists. 

catalogue raisonné of her work was published in 2007, in Italian, with black-and-white illustrations--used copies are occasionally available. But for once I might suggest you look at the Wikipedia entry for Carriera, which has a wonderful, expansive gallery of her work. You can search online and see her work in various collections--the National Gallery (London) the Victoria and Albert, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Getty, and the Uffizi, for example.