Urgent Museum Notice

Image for Venetian Virtuoso: Rosalba Carriera

Venetian Virtuoso: Rosalba Carriera

Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight

Born in Venice, Rosalba Carriera (1675–1757) was the daughter of a clerk and a lace-maker. Largely self-taught, she began her artistic career painting miniature portraits. Carriera employed ivory as the ground for her miniatures instead of the typical material for her time, vellum. Such works quickly solidified her reputation within Italian art circles and gained her acceptance into Rome’s prestigious Accademia di San Luca in 1704.

Rosalba Carriera, Self Portrait as Winter, 1731; Pastel on paper; Gemäldegalerie, Dresden
Rosalba Carriera, Self Portrait as Winter, 1731; Pastel on paper; Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

By her early twenties, Carriera was using pastel—the medium for which she later became famous. Previously the powdered pigment bound into sticks was used mostly for informal drawings and preparatory sketches. Carriera revolutionized its use for serious portraiture. Her works were admired for their velvety color palettes and striking details.
She received commissions from the courts of Modena, Vienna, and Dresden. In 1720, Carriera spent a successful year in Paris, where she visited renowned art collections, met French artists, and created portraits of prominent individuals, including the young Louis XV.
She later worked in Modena and Austria, assisted by her sister Giovanna. In Vienna, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI became her patron and the empress became her pupil. Her greatest patron, Augustus III of Poland, sat for her in 1713 and amassed more than 150 of her pastels.
Carriera primarily used pastel for portraits and allegorical images. In the 18th century, artists often personified the continents by using female figures in distinctive clothing. At the time, Europe recognized four continents: Africa, Asia, Europe, and America. Carriera’s allegorical work in NMWA’s collection, America, represents the region as a woman in costume. The realistic flesh tones of the figure exemplify Carriera’s skill with pastel. She included a jeweled headband, feather hair accessory, and a quiver of arrows to allude to Europeans’ common associations with America. Her ability to capture the textures of rich fabrics and accessories was appealing to her wealthy patrons.

Carriera-for-blog
Rosalba Carriera, America, ca. 1730; Pastel on paper mounted on canvas, 16 1/2 x 13 in.; Purchased with funds donated by Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Carriera suffered emotional trauma following her sister Giovanna’s death in 1738 and the loss of her own eyesight, which began eight years later. By 1749 she was permanently blind and unable to work. However, Carriera enjoyed such extensive fame that for subsequent women artists, to be called a “modern Rosalba” was high praise. Renowned French portraitist Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun (1755–1842) earned the moniker decades after Carriera’s death, as Carriera’s oeuvre continued to influence artists such as Vigée-LeBrun and Adélaïde Labille-Guiard.

Related Posts

  • Reclamation: Q&A with Jenny Dorsey

    Posted: Apr 19, 2021 in Artist Spotlight
    Chef, writer, and artist Jenny Dorsey talks with us about her process and work, part of NMWA's new online exhibition RECLAMATION: Recipes, Remedies, and Rituals.
    A light-skinned woman of Asian descent stands behind a large, wooden kitchen table that is full of two white dishes of finely plated food and various small, plastic to-go dishes., alongside a small bronze French Press coffee maker. The woman smiles and wears a grey tshirt under a black and white vertical striped apron.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
  • Women to Watch 2020: Joli Livaudais

    Posted: Mar 31, 2021 in Artist Spotlight
    Learn about artist Joli Livaudais's process and work, which was featured in Paper Routes, the latest installment of NMWA's Women to Watch exhibition series.
    A light-skinned woman with short brown hair stands in front of a white wall to which paper beetles, sculpted out of photographs, are affixed. The woman holds a beetle in her open palm, while others are arranged atop her brown leather jacket. She smiles slightly at the camera while leaning against the wall.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
  • Women to Watch 2020: Luisa Pastor

    Posted: Mar 10, 2021 in Artist Spotlight
    Learn about Spanish artist Luisa Pastor's process and work, which was featured in Paper Routes, the latest installment of NMWA's Women to Watch exhibition series.
    A beige rectangular work with fragments of small boxlike elements adhered together to create a textured surface.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight