Garzoni, Giovanna (1600–1670)

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Garzoni, Giovanna (1600–1670)

Italian painter, best known for her studies of flowers, plants, and animals. Probably born in Ascoli Piceno, Italy, in 1600; died in Rome, Italy, in February 1670; never married; no children.

Selected works:

Dish of Broad Beans (tempera on parchment, Palazzo Pitti, Florence); Dish of Grapes with Pears and a Snail (tempera on parchment, Palazzo Pitti, Florence); Still Life with Birds and Fruit (watercolor on Parchment, c. 1640, The Cleveland Museum of Art).

Much that is known about the life of 17th-century artist Giovanna Garzoni can be called into question, beginning with her place of birth which was probably Ascoli Piceno, although a Medici inventory cites it as Lucca. An oil painting, Holy Family, executed when she was 16, was still in Ascoli in 1830, suggesting that she began painting in her hometown. In 1625, she was in Venice, where she painted a miniature portrait of a young man. Her correspondence and other documents reveal that she subsequently worked in Florence, Naples, and Rome. Her patrons included the Medici, as well as other Italian and Spanish nobility. Garzoni reached the height of her popularity in Florence where she lived for some time and was evidently able to sell her work for top prices. She became quite wealthy and settled in Rome around 1654, where she contributed to one of the annual feasts of the Accademia di San Luca, of which Garzoni was probably made a member as early as 1633. She died in February 1670, leaving her possessions to the academy on the condition that they erect a monument to her in their church, which they eventually did in 1698.

Garzoni is best known for her studies of flowers, plants, and animals which are a blend of still-life and scientific drawing, and these include some of the finest botanical studies made in the 17th century. The largest grouping of her work is in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. An album of 22 studies of insects, flowers, and fruits was bequeathed to the Accademia di San Luca, though Germaine Greer was unable to trace the album for her book The Obstacle Race. Four studies by Garzoni are in Madrid, and one of fruit and birds is in Cleveland.

Many of her paintings, such as Dish of Broad Beans, are simple in composition, usually consisting of one type of plant set on a dish or arranged in a vase, to which is added a contrasting species to complement or contrast textures and shapes. "Faint contour lines are filled in with color laid on in tiny parallel strokes or in stippled strokes that give many of her surfaces a characteristic speckled appearance like that of a bird's egg," note Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin . "Her drawing is assured and her arrangement of the fruits and flowers sophisticated and far more complex than appear at first sight. She creates a feeling of concentrated mass that differentiates her work from that of predecessors like Ligozzi and Balthasar van der Ast."

A watercolor on parchment called Still Life with Birds and Fruit was one of four octagonal pictures attributed to Garzoni in 1964 by Mina Gregori , and this work displays the artist's skill at drawing birds as well as plants. Although Gregori was instrumental in helping to bring to light Garzoni's contributions to 17th-century art, the full extent of this artist's achievements has yet to be determined.


Greer, Germaine. The Obstacle Race. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979.

Harris, Ann Sutherland, and Linda Nochlin. Women Artists, 1550–1950. LA County Museum of Art: Knopf, 1976.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts