CARRIERA, ROSALBA (1675–1757), Italian painter, known for miniatures on ivory. The eighteenth-century Venetian painter Rosalba Carriera was the first woman painter in history to be credited by many with the initiation of a new style in art, even called by her contemporaries the goût moderne. Later negatively dubbed the rococo by Maurice Quaï, a follower of the neoclassicist Jacques-Louis David, this style emphasized pastel colors; a free, spontaneous—almost impressionistic—brushstroke; and an elegance and charm that were highly praised by early-eighteenth-century patrons. Carriera also encouraged new approaches in media, which included miniature works in tempera on ivory and pastel on paper. For the rest of the century, elegant and sophisticated works in these media, inspired by Carriera, were popular with artists and collectors alike.
Rosalba Carriera was born in Chiogga 7 October 1675, the daughter of Andrea Carriera, a government clerk, and the lacemaker Alba Foresti. Her first works were designs for lace patterns, but sometime before 1700 she was encouraged by the French painter Jean Steve to execute miniatures on ivory to decorate the lids of snuffboxes. The light and lively style of these works gained her much notoriety, leading to her acceptance at the prestigious Academy of St. Luke in Rome. For her morceau de réception (piece presented on her reception into the academy), she submitted Young Girl with a Dove (1705, Academy of St. Luke, Rome), a tempera on ivory miniature. Carriera continued to paint small-scale works until her failing eyesight made such work impossible.
Carriera is best known for popularizing finished works in pastel. She was introduced to this medium by Gian Antonio Lazzarini and Padre don Felice Ramelli. Other artists credited with teaching Carriera are Giuseppe Diamantini and Antonio Balestra. Ramelli and Balestra continued to play an important role in Carriera's life, as is indicated by her correspondence. These letters, as well as her will, a diary she kept in Paris, and brief autobiographical notes, are conserved in the Ashmoleon Collection of the Laurentian Library, Florence.
The earliest known pastel portrait painted by Carriera depicts the connoisseur and collector Anton Maria Zanetti (1700, National Museum, Stockholm). Zanetti collected many works by Carriera and promoted their value to other collectors in his travels throughout Europe. He became friendly with the important Swedish collector Count Carl Gustaf Tessin, to whom he gave this early portrait.
The English consul in Venice, Joseph Smith, was another devoted patron. He amassed a sizable collection of Carriera's works, which were purchased in 1762 by King George III. This collection included one of many self-portraits executed by the artist (1744–1746, Windsor Castle). Carriera's best-known self-portrait, however, is the one she contributed to the Medici collection of self-portraits at the Uffizi. Characteristic of her self-portraits, this work (1709, Uffizi Gallery, Florence) does not idealize her plain features, which include round dark eyes, a rather bulbous nose, thin lips, and a deep dimple in her chin. Although Carriera achieved fame by glamorizing her sitters, she is brutally honest in representing herself. The emphasis in this work is on her role as a portrait painter, since she appears holding a portrait of her sister Giovanna, who served as Rosalba's assistant. These two unmarried sisters lived with their widowed mother in a sizable residence and studio on the Grand Canal. Here the artist was visited by many international patrons, including Augustus III of Saxony and Poland, who counted over 150 of Carriera's works in his collection (many of these were destroyed during the bombing of Dresden in World War II).
Augustus III first became acquainted with Carriera in 1713 when he visited Venice as a young prince on grand tour. The following year he commissioned a portrait of himself in oil (1714, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna) and, subsequently, many other portraits and allegorical works that Carriera referred to as her "fancy pieces." These included a number of serial works, such as The Four Seasons, The Four Elements, and The Four Continents, which were once housed in his "Rosalba Room." These allegories were usually represented by scantily clad beauties holding symbols that reference their meaning. In The Four Seasons, for example, America (1730, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.) is represented as a dark-skinned, bare-breasted female wearing a feathered headdress and holding an arrow. These sexually alluring allegorical figures capture the spirit of moral freedom, elegance, and charm associated with the early Enlightenment.
Another visitor to Carriera's Venetian studio was the French banker Pierre Crozat, who convinced Carriera to stay with him in Paris from April 1720 until March 1721. While there, she was named a member of the French Royal Academy (1720) even though it had earlier banned (1706) female membership. Her Paris diary records visits with many artists, including Nicolas de Largillière, Antoine Coypel, Jean-François de Troy, and Hyacinthe Rigaud. She particularly admired the work of Antoine Watteau, whose portrait she executed twice (1720, Studdesches Institut, Frankfurt, and 1720–1721, Museo Civico, Treviso). She also executed two portraits of the ten-year-old King Louis XV, one a miniature on ivory, the other in pastel (1720, one version at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). The positive reception afforded these works encouraged many requests for autographed copies and a number of French artists to work in pastel—most notably, Maurice Quentin de la Tour.
Although Carriera's style and media influenced many artists, she had only three known students. These were her sisters Giovanna and Angela (who married the painter Giovanni Pellegrini), and Felicita Sartori, who became court painter to Augustus III when Carriera declined the position. Sartori is believed to have posed for Carriera's Allegory of Painting (n.d., National Gallery, Washington, D.C.), although there is some question as to whether this work was in fact created by Carriera. It may be a self-portrait of Sartori, whose style was very similar to that of her teacher.
Carriera's fame and prestige made her a source of inspiration to many other women painters. The Scottish-born artist Catherine Read, called the "English Rosalba" by Horace Walpole, wrote to Carriera three times in the years just before her death. In that correspondence Read calls Carriera an artist without equal and praises the honor that she brings to her sex. Read mentions a letter that she received from Carriera, but it was probably written by her then widowed sister Angela, since Rosalba was blind for the last ten years of her life and Giovanna died in 1737.
By the time of Carriera's death on 15 April 1757, the light, spontaneous rococo style that she helped popularize was fast going out of fashion. Nevertheless, the legend of the Great Rosalba would continue to inspire artists—particularly women artists—for the next two centuries.
See also Portrait Miniatures ; Rococo ; Venice, Art in ; Watteau, Antoine ; Women and Art .
Carriera, Rosalba. Lettere, diari, framente. Edited by Bernardina Sani. 2 vols. Florence, 1985.
Dobson, Austin. Rosalba's Journal and Other Papers. Oxford, 1926.
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Cheney, Liana de Girolami, Alicia Craig Faxon, and Kathleen Lucey Russo. Self-Portraits by Women Painters. Aldershot, U.K., and Brookfield, Vt., 2000.
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Sani, Bernardina. Rosalba Carriera. Turin, 1988.
Wilhelm, J. "Le portrait de Watteau par Rosalba Carriera." Gazette des Beaux Arts 164 (1953): 235–246.