Renowned painter of the Republic of Venice
Renowned painter of the Republic of Venice
Rosalba Carriera is remembered as one of the most successful women artists ever, with her painting techniques and subjects receiving praise and attention. However, this blog will look at her career from the perspective of her as an independent and successful artist in a profession and society that, at the time, were predominantly male-dominated and male-oriented.
From this premise you probably guessed it was no easy task, so here is an example of how women often receive less recognition than men.
Palazzo Goldoni is a baroque style Venetian house located in Chioggia, a town at the very south of the Venetian lagoon. Throughout the centuries, its name changed many times, such as Palazzo Poli, Poli-Smeraldi, and most recently, Palazzo Goldoni. While the first two listed names refer to the families who owned it, the Goldoni family were not its owners. Carlo Goldoni, a very important figure in Italian theatre, sojourned at the palace with his family, and the palace was named after him. However, Rosalba Carriera’s family owned the palace, and yet it does not bear her name.
That’s because, in Italy, she is not as well known as Carlo Goldoni. His claim to fame was revolutionising Italian theatre, but Rosalba herself was no less a revolutionary figure.
Rosalba Carriera was born on 7 October 1675 in Venice. In that time, the power and influence of the once great Venice had been in decline for quite some time. However, it remained an inevitable stop for young men in their Grand Tours of Europe, and it was still quite diplomatically relevant, with the hustle and bustle of diplomats. Rosalba knew quite a number of people in the latter category, who paved the way for her stay in France and made her famous across Europe.
At the time, when women were 15 or 16 years old, they began to already receive engagement proposals, especially those in the middle and upper classes. Rosalba was the eldest of three sisters, so, around that age, she began to have several suitors. Women of the upper and middle classes usually only had two choices in life: to get married or to become a nun. Because so many people from so many different backgrounds lived in Venice, people were generally more open-minded than other places in Europe at the time. Women were more present in everyday life, but this presence was not publicly acknowledged.
Rosalba’s grandfather was also an artist. Her parents were happy that she also had a talent for art, so they encouraged her to pursue her passion for drawing. They were part of the middle class, and could afford to provide an education for their three daughters. The education consisted in reading, writing, French, English, poetry and music.
The painter Giuseppe Diamantini took Rosalba in as his apprentice in his workshop. He treated her like any other apprentice, like her male peers. She especially enjoyed preparing colours and drawing portraits. Rosalba wrote a manuscript about colour preparation, which is now held at the National Archive in Venice, and has been published.
In Diamantini’s workshop, Rosalba increasingly developed her talents. His clients gradually became hers. Her family and family friends also started commissioning works from her. She started earning her own money.
Thanks to her connections with diplomats and high-ranking people from Italy and all over Europe (especially France, England, and Germany), she received many important commissions of portraits and other subjects, which spread her fame to many corners of the continent. Because she received many commissions, she would personally draw the composition and leave portions of the work to her staff at the workshop or to her sister Zanina. She accompanied Rosalba in all her travels and was of great help in her sister’s career.
Her diaries and memoirs of the time tell stories of daily life from the perspective of a person whose combination of gender and profession were uncommon. They give us glimpses into daily life, but also into the most significant events of the time period through the eyes of a person who lived in the arts. Rosalba also left testimonies of what she knew was expected of her as a woman in the 1600s and 1700s, and of how she reconciled them with what was typically expected of (male) painters in that same time period. Her talent and perseverance make her a revolutionary figure in the history of women in art, and in the history of art in general. Rosalba died on 15 April 1757 in Venice.
Special thanks to the owners of Palazzo Carlo Goldoni for the documentation and insights into the life and story of Rosalba Carriera.
The MET Museum, “Venice in the Eighteenth Century.” https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/venc/hd_venc.htm USC Dornsife, “Women of 16th Century Venice.” https://dornsife.usc.edu/veronica-franco/women-of-16th-century-venice/. Valentina Casarotto, Il segreto nello sguardo, Angelo Colla Editore, 2012. Venezia Today, “Casa Goldoni a Chioggia: dove nacque l'amore platonico dello scrittore per una giovane educanda” https://www.veneziatoday.it/blog/vivivenezia/casa-goldoni-chioggia.html. Wikipedia, “Rosalba Carriera.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosalba_Carriera