Rosalba Carriera worked in pastels and was very popular in Venice, mainly among
the British tourists. Carriera painted snuff boxes that were sold to tourist,
that had miniature paintings done on ivory. This was a technique that she
pioneered, as opposed to the earlier methods used by other artists who would
use parchment as the medium for their works. By 1700, She was well known for
painting miniatures. In 1704 she was honored with the "Accademico di
Merito" (academic of merit), by the Accademia di San Luca (Academy of Saint
Luca) in Rome. This title was only for non-Roman artists. She achieved
tremendous popularity, and made several pastel portraits of prominent subjects
from all over Europe, She also gained great success with her somewhat
pornographic demivierges. She spent the last 10 years of her life completely
blind, this led to her complete mental breakdown before her death.
Rosalba Carriera was born in October 7, 1675 in Venice, Italy. She was
the first child of a poor Venetian clerk and his wife, who was a lace maker. It is
said that she probably learned how to make lace, and designed lace patterns for
her mother. Rosalba came from a family of painters, her father always encouraged
his three daughters when they displayed artistic talent.
Rosalba never married and remained faithful to her family throughout her
life. Her sisters were important contributors to her artistic career as
supporters, in spirit and by helping her in her works. Rosalba's sister,
Angela, married Antonio Pellegrini, who was an artist, and who helped to
promote her artwork. Rosalba was very close to her sister, Giovanna, who was her
life-long assistant in her studio. She would often be laying in the background,
and would provide many of the underlying sketches.
Although it is plain to see that Rosalba had some form of artistic training, it is not
known when she learned, or who was her instructor. When the lace making
industry declined, Carriera used her talents in decorating ivory snuff boxes
that would be sold to the tourists. Once she had mastered her skill of small scale painting,
started creating miniature portraits. Her natural talent and ambition
led her to develop a new
form of miniature portraiture executed on ivory. Ivory was more durable and
luminous than parchment, and her creation became widely used by miniature
painters during the 18th century. Painting miniatures requires
immeasurable manual and technical control. Carriera demonstrated great skill in
rendering detail and
thickness of the paint while it was being applied.
She handled the demanding art of miniature portrait painting with ease.
Pastels were a new medium to paint with at that time. They were a French
invention, and with Venice being a trade port, it is no surprise that they
turned up in Italy. Pastels were considered to be a women's art medium, at
least until Edgar Degas started using them in the late 1800s.
Several women painters of the 17th and 18th centuries were known
internationally, but, Rosalba was the most successful, and had much more
influence in the art scene, more than any of her contemporaries. She was very shy and
kept to herself, this could be due to the fact that Rosalba suffered from
depression through all of her life.
In 1703 Rosalba began working with pastels after another artist had
introduced her to the medium. Chalk had long been used for sketching but it was
only in the late 15th century that pastels, became widely available to artists.
Rosalba was known to have ordered specially colored pastels, the primary colors
that she wanted was flesh
tones. Carriera, who was impressed with the speed and subtleness, began to
explore the formal possibilities and developed a skill, that was previously
Witney Chadwick, who wrote the book, Women, Art, and Society, said this of
"Carriera's loose, painterly
technique with its subtle surface tonalities and dancing lights revolutionized
the medium of pastel. Dragging the side of a piece of chalk across an under
drawing in darker tones, she was able to capture the shimmering textures of lace
and satin, and highlight facial features and soft cascades of powered hair."
In 1704 Rosalba submitted one of her miniatures, of a girl holding a dove to the Accademia
di San Luca in Rome. A year later she was made an "academico di merito," This
title was only for non-Roman artists.
In a letter to Carriera, a fellow artists states that, another artist who was
in the same ceremony was "a great Spanish sculptress". The
artist that the letter referred to was Louisa Ignacia Roldán.
Rosalba was one of the artists who helped introduce the Rococo style of
painting to Italy and; she introduced ivory as a medium for miniature painting,
her most significant achievement was that she popularized pastel as a medium for
serious portraiture. Her achievements were further perfected by Maurice Quentin de la Tour who
became the greatest pastel portraitist of the 18th century.
Tourists soon discovered Rosalba's great talent, shortly thereafter she started receiving
commissions from many of Europe's aristocrats. Stanislaw
Leszczynski, The King of Poland, visited
Rosalba at her studio to
have his portrait painted. When he left, he had bought the entire collection of of
her works that she had at her studio. These works, along with many of her later
was the largest collection of Rosalba's work, that was ever purchased in such
a large quantity.
In 1720 she accepted the invitation of a very wealthy Parisian banker who was
also an art collector, to come to Paris. Shortly after her arrival, Rosalba took
Paris by storm. Her first subject that she painted was the 10 year old Monarch, Louis XV. The
painting was so well accepted, that she was overwhelmed with commissions, that
kept her busy painting in Paris for a year. Her talents as a
conversationalist and an accomplished violinist kept her in demand on the social
circuit, as well. However, her diary and letters show some insight into
the day to day experiences of painting the little monarch. One entry in her
diary shows that during one sitting, "his gun fell over, his parrot died, and
his little dog fell ill."
The incredible success of Rosalba's trip to France was crowned by her
unanimous election to the Academie Royale in October of 1720. This was a
remarkable honor for any artist but even more so for Rosalba, since she was a foreigner, and a woman.
Carriera was extraordinarily talented in her ability to represent her subjects in
flattering manner without compromising their individuality. She often depicted
her sitters, as well as herself, as mythological or allegorical figures and
called them her "fancy pieces". Carriera was able to meet
the demands of her patrons while expressing her unique style and talents. Although she may have catered to her clients,
her less formal portraits,
such as that of the artist, Antoine Watteau , and her self-portraits, clearly
shows her power of observation and understanding of human
character. Her final self-portrait, that she painted just before she went blind,
shows her psychological depth and honesty.
Her works are such masterpieces, that most major museums throughout
the world still have at least one painting by Rosalba Carriera.
When her sister, Giovanna died of tuberculosis in 1737, Rosalba became so depressed
that she would not work for several months. Sadly, there were other
difficulties to come. Her eyesight started to deteriorate do to cataracts, and by 1747,
she was completely blind.
Rosalba died on April 15th, 1757, she spent her last ten years in total seclusion, where
she battled with episodes of major depression.
Rosalba's artwork is still displayed in many museums around the world, such
- Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
- Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
- National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada
- National Gallery, London, England
- National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.
- Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California
- Gallerie de Accademia, Venice, Italy
- National Brukenthal Museum, Romania
More information on other lesser known female artists can be
Source: Women Artists. 1st ed. : Ruggio Publishing, 1977.