Tempera on ivory
8 x 6 cm
This miniature by Rosalba Carriera, one of the greatest female artists of the 18th century, presents a gallant subject inspired by Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered: the amorous transports of Rinaldo and Armida, sharpened by the play of a mirror. This miniature is very similar to another miniature by Rosalba Carriera preserved in Chatsworth. It demonstrates the persistence of this literary work as a source of inspiration for the decorative arts in Venice in the 18th century and announces the gallant works that would flourish in France a few decades later.
1. Rosalba Carriera, the extraordinary life of a female artist in 18th century Venice
Born in Venice in 1673, Rosalba Carriera began her artistic career as a painter of miniatures and snuff boxes. Her first known works date back to the 1690s, and she quickly became famous for her miniatures, which, in 1705, enabled her to become the first female member of the Academy of Saint Luke in Rome. She gradually abandoned miniatures for pastels, becoming one of the most sought-after portrait painters in Europe thanks to this medium.
In March 1720, on the invitation of Pierre Crozat, a financier and art collector, Rosalba Carriera went to Paris where she stayed for a year. Thanks to Crozat, she met some of the most important French painters of the time: Antoine Coypel, Jean Ranc, Hyacinthe Rigaud, Antoine Watteau (whose portrait she painted ), Jean-François de Troy, Nicolas de Largillière, Louis de Boulogne... Residing at Pierre Crozat's home, she was inundated with commissions from ladies of the Parisian aristocracy, hardly leaving her any time to work. On Coypel's suggestion, she was the first woman admitted to the Académie Royale on October 26th 1720 as a portrait painter. Her stay in Paris introduced pastel portraits to the Parisian public, and it was undoubtedly under her influence that Maurice Quentin de La Tour abandoned oil portraits to devote himself entirely to pastel painting.
Having returned to Venice from where she sent her pièce de réception to the Académie Royale in 1721, she pursued her activity as a portrait painter. Extremely sought after throughout Europe, she went to Modena in 1723 to paint the Grand Duke's daughters and to Vienna in 1730 to paint the Empress. She continued to paint until 1746-1747, before gradually going blind. She passed away in 1757.
2. Description of the miniature
A young woman lying at the foot of a tree, one breast uncovered, her hair spiked with flowers, holds in her right hand an oval mirror, of which we can only see the back painted in vermilion. She caresses the chin of a young man, also crowned with flowers, with her left hand.
This young man is girded with a floating blue stole; only a metal fastener under his shoulder reveals a part of the cuirass from which he undressed. The almond-shaped eyes of our two lovers seem to stare intently into the mirror, and we understand that, through this mirror, each is immersed in the contemplation of the other.
3. Rinaldo and Armida, a famous episode of Jerusalem Delivered
La Gerusalemme liberata is an epic poem published in 1581 in Italian by Torquato Tasso (1544 - 1595), known as Le Tasse, which gives a largely fictionalized account of the First Crusade, when, in 1099, Christian knights led by Godfrey of Bouillon fought the Saracens to liberate Jerusalem.
The magician Armida, a Muslim, is one of the main female characters: entering the Christian camp to ask for their help, using her charm, she manages to divide the knights and to drag some of them away to turn into animals by magic. Falling in love with Rinaldo, she takes him to a magical island where he succumbs to her caresses: this is the scene (taken from the sixteenth song) that our miniature represents.
It is interesting to see how, in many aspects, this miniature evokes the original text of Tasso in which our two lovers are represented :
Till they beheld the queen, set with their knight Ch'egli è in grembo alla donna, essa all'
Her breasts were naked, for the day was hot […] Ella dinanzi al petto ha il vel diviso…
O’er him her looks she hung, and her soft breast Sovra lui pende; ed ei nel grembo molle
The pillow was, where he and love took rest. […] Le posa il capo, e' l volto al volto attolle
Down by the lovers’ side there pendent was Dal fianco de l'amante (estranio arnese)
A crystal mirror, bright, pure, smooth, and neat, Un cristallo pendea lucido et netto.
He rose, and to his mistress held the glass, Sorse, e quel fra le mani a lui sospese
A noble page, graced with that service great; A i misteri d'Amor ministro eletto
She, with glad looks, he with inflamed, alas, Con luci ella ridendi, ei con accese
Beauty and love beheld, both in one seat; Mirano in vari ogetti un solo oggetto :
Yet them in sundry objects each espies, Ella del vetro a sé fa specchio: ed egli
She, in the glass, he saw them in her eyes Gli occhi di lei sereni a sé fa spegli.
One of the most beautiful editions of Jerusalem Delivered, illustrated by Piazzetta (a copy of which Rosalba Carriera buys) was published in Venice in 1745. Each song is illustrated by a large engraving and the one illustrating the sixteenth song naturally includes this scene (without the mirror).
The work of Tasso was used in Venice as a major decorative source throughout the first half of the 18th century, as is evidenced in frescoes painted by Giambattista Tiepolo in 1740-1746 for the Cabinet of Mirrors in the Corner family palace (now at the Art Institute of Chicago).
4. Related work and iconographic source
In her reference book on Rosalba Carriera, Bernardina Sani reproduces a miniature of Rosalba (of which we have only found a black and white photo) which seems to be very close to ours. It is part of the Devonshire collection in Chatsworth, Derbyshire (UK). It was probably brought back from Venice in 1715 by Lord Burlington, along with eleven other miniatures by Rosalba Carriera, of which only four remain in this Collection today.
While these two miniatures are of comparable size (7.6 cm high for the Devonshire miniature versus 8 for ours), Bernardina Sani identifies the subject as Venus and Cupid, but it would also seem appropriate to identify them as Rinaldo and Armida. Only the position of the lovers differs: he has his eyes turned towards his mistress in the Chatsworth miniature and towards the mirror in the one we are presenting. The similarity between these two miniatures suggests a dating around 1715 for our miniature.
Interestingly, Bernardina Sani indicates an iconographic source for this composition by linking it to the painting of Hercules and Omphale by Federico Bencovich (1677 - 1753), which is kept in the Bavarian State Collections at Würzburg Palace (Germany). We know that Bencovich was a friend of Rosalba Carriera, and Mariette reports that she was inspired by the drawings that he provided her. If we follow this suggestion of iconographic source, it would seem legitimate to think that our miniature, which departs from Bencovich's painting while being more faithful to the text of Tasso, has been produced by Rosalba Carriera after the one kept today in Chatsworth.
Primary bibliographic source:
Rosalba Carriera - Bernardina Sani - Torino 2007
Delevery information :
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3 500 €