Rosalba Carriera

Society's pastel portraitist

Self portrait holding a painting of her sister

Rosalba Carriera (1675–1758), a Venetian portraitist and miniaturist, was perhaps the first woman in Italy to make a good living as an artist: her soft, pastel portraits were the rage of the powdered wig set.

One of three daughters of a lace maker, Carriera began her career by designing lace patterns for her mother, before moving on to miniatures, especially miniatures painted on ivory snuff boxes. Later she began to experiment in pastels, which until then had only been used for sketches, and it wasn't long before every prominent visitor on the Grand Tour was queueing up to be portrayed. In 1704 she was admitted to Rome's Accademia di San Luca.

Together with her mother, sisters (who helped with her portraits) and brother-in-law, Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, Carriera went to Paris for 18 months and painted every notable person, from King Louis XV on down the line, flattering every sitter and effortlessly depicting their finery. She later travelled to Parma, Vienna, and Poland, where she met her greatest patron, Augustus III who acquired 150 of her works.

Her latter years were sad; in spite of a pair of cataract operations she gradually lost her sight in 1746, and survived with the rest of her family in her little palazzo on the Grand Canal.

Find her works in Venice in the Accademia and Ca’ Rezzonico.

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