Like Therbusch, Rosalba Carriera (1673-1757), was another lady artist who broke with convention. She developed her own pastel technique to perfection using it as the finished medium, which was unusual as pastel was traditionally used only for preparatory drawings. She created beautifully soft, sensitive and insightful portraits which were immensely popular. She began her career by painting miniatures for visitors to her native Venice (many on the ‘Grand Tour’). These were often done on ivory which heightened the luminosity of the skin (it was cut into thin sheets and sanded for better adherence). In 1720 she made her first visit to Paris where she was elected to the Academie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture by acclamation rather than application. This was an immense achievement – especially since she was, like Therbusch, a foreigner. Whilst there she got to know the leading Rococo artist Antoine Watteau (who died young, shortly after the portrait above was completed), and even gave artistic guidance to Quentin de la Tour, who went on to become the leading pastel portraitist in France. Most amazing and unusual though, are her self portraits which are astoundingly honest and unpretentious. Unlike Vigee Le Brun, she was no beauty and yet she makes no attempt to flatter herself. Her late Self Portrait (above), executed when she was the ripe old age of 73, emphasizes her ‘masculine’ intellect (like Therbusch’s innovative self portrait in my previous post). She resembles an ancient philosopher (the wreath around her head underlines this), contemplating life’s mystery – or perhaps its tragedy (it is sometimes thought to be a personification of tragedy). Carriera suffered from routine bouts of depression, especially towards the end of her life when her eyesight failed. I think her portraits are truly probing and different and her self portraits so hard-hitting they could be mistaken for Modernist works. My advice – look her up!
Carriera: Portrait of Watteau 1721 Carriera: Self Portrait 1746 (aged 73)