Self Portrait by Rosalba Carriera

My featured artist today is the Venetian portraitist Rosalba Carriera.  I have chosen her because I saw her painting whilst in Venice and I was greatly moved by it.  As I told you yesterday, when I discover a “new” artist I become intrigued and curious to know more about them and so now that I am back home I have delved through my books and have come up with a somewhat sad tale which I will now tell you.

Rosalba Carriera was born in Venice in 1675 and was one of three sisters, one of whom, Angela, was later to marry the great Venetian painter Giovanni Pellegrini.  Rosalba studied art under Giuseppe Diamantini, the notable Baroque painter and printmaker, during which time she would copy oil paintings.  Her own first successes came in 1700 with her tempera portrait miniatures which she painted on ivory.  In 1705 she was made accademico di merito by the Accademia di San Luca in Rome.  This was a great honour and was reserved for non-Roman artists.   Her work was so good that soon her fame spread throughout Europe. 

Here is another question for you.  What do you think the connection was between Rosalba and snuff?

By the 18th century, snuff had become the tobacco product of choice among the elite, prominent users included Napoleon, King George III and his wife Queen Charlotte and even Pope Benedict XIII.   The taking of snuff helped to distinguish the elite members of society from the common populace, which generally smoked its tobacco.   As snuff-taking became popular in Europe so did Rosalba’s commissions.  Why?    Rosalba Carriera was able to paint miniature portraits, often on ivory, which formed the lids of the snuff boxes.  Her talent for these delicately painted snuff-boxes was in great demand.  From that, she progressed to portrait painting but again on a small scale, usually about 30cms x 50 cms.  In 1706 she was invited to the court in Dusseldorf to carry out various commissions and following on from that she was besieged by the nobility of Europe who flocked to her studio in Venice for her to paint their portraits or  portraits of somebody from their family.    

And so to My Daily Art Display painting simply entitled, Self-portrait which she completed around 1746 when she was aged 71.  This was unlike many of her portraits she did of women of the nobility.  Those portraits were of good-looking women, dressed in sumptuous clothes.  Here we have before us a pale faced elderly woman.  She is not smiling and it appears that happiness has passed her by.  She looks tired, drained by her long and arduous life.  I wonder if , in general, we are lulled into believing that somebody who has the ability to paint beautiful things must be happy.  But maybe that is at the crux of her sadness, as it is at about this time that she began to lose  her sight and she must have realised that her ability to produce such beautiful works as she had once done, was rapidly coming to an end.  Can you imagine what she must have been thinking at this time in her life?  Can you imagine her torment when she realised her days of painting were coming to an end? 

Sadly, she became totally blind five years after completing this self portrait and this sent her spiralling into a deep depression and she died six years later in 1757, aged 82.