Born January 12, 1673 in Venice; Died April 15, 1757 in Venice
Self portrait as Winter, 1731
As annoying as I find this, I’m forgoing the chronological order for this post and taking a step back in time to the Rococo period, which was before Neoclassicism. This style is just too pivotal in artistic history to gloss over. Sorry!
Rosalba Carriera was a central figure in the art world of the 18th century, but not much is known about her early life. Born into a simple family in Venice, she was perhaps trained in lace-making by her mother, but switched hobbies after the trade became less popular. The young woman began painting the lids of snuffboxes, or small, very ornamented boxes that held tobacco meant to be sniffed. Interestingly, this was an actual career for artists at the time, as the prevalence of using snuff and giving the boxes as gifts became a huge fad in Europe and beyond.
An example of an 18th century snuffbox (not of Carriera’s)
Carriera enjoyed this decorative style of painting, and moved on to paint many more miniatures on ivory, instead of vellum (parchment), that was so popular of the time. She became a major proponent of the Rococo art movement, which began in France and is notable for its “rich and delicate brushwork, a relatively light tonal key, and sensuous colouring.”
The Love Lesson, by Jean-Antoine Watteau
Watteau popularized the Rococo style, and its elements- the light brushstroke, almost airy, ethereal backgrounds, and subdued pastel colors- are evident in his pieces
Carriera greatly admired his work, and even had the opportunity to paint him twice.
Like the other artists mentioned, Carriera also received fame at a relatively young age. She was inducted into Italy’s prestigious Academy of Saint Luke when she was only 25. The quality of her artwork wasn’t the only thing making waves across Europe– she also was one of the first people to use pastels instead of paint in her finished portraits. Until then, pastels were seen as a means for creating sketches, but Carriera found that they were perfect for executing the light, blended style of the Rococo movement she loved so much.
Young Lady of the Le Blond Family, 1730
This is a pastel portrait made by Carriera. It’s amazing how much detail she was able to convey using pastels, and how finished the product looks.
The clever artist’s innovation with pastels only served to further her fame, and she was soon encouraged to move to Paris to promote her talents more. Carriera did so, arriving in 1720 and soon being commission by many notable people. Among some of the more famous patrons was a young King Louis XV. She continued to beguile nobility, and painted Holy Roam Emperor Charles VI multiple times. Tragically, the end of the artist’s life was riddled with hardships– her beloved sister died in 1737, and Carriera lost her eyesight about 10 years later, making her unable to paint.
Louis XV of France, 1720
It’s interesting to compare Carierra’s self-portraits to those that she made of others. She makes her subjects look soft and attractive, portraying them in flattering ways (probably because they all paid her a ton of money, so she had to make them look good.) With herself, however, she is “brutally honest in representing herself”, as she was not particularly stunning… Or at least that’s how she felt about herself. Her pictures of others are absolutely beuatiful, but I think it’s way more fascinating to analyze how how she portrayed herself. Unlike Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, she doesn’t seem to have any ego about her, even though she was just as deserving of one. She managed to pave the way for both a new style of art and a new medium (Rococo and pastels, respectively), along with inspiring future artists to come, including Le Brun.
Self Portrait, 1715 Young Lady with a Parrot, 1730
There is such a large contrasts between Carriera’s self portrait- her demure expression, unrefined features, and conservative clothes- and the way she made her clients look. The young lady on the right is adorned with flowers, jewelry, makeup, and revealing clothes (and also, inexplicably, a parrot.) Nonetheless, Carriera’s talent is clear despite her subject.