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A pastel pioneer

September 7th, 2018

Image of a portrait of a woman made using pastel

Rosalba Carriera, Portrait of a Woman, early 18th century. Pastel on blue laid paper, Overall: 31 x 25 cm. Purchased as a gift from Mrs. Walter Gordon, 1995. © 2018 Art Gallery of Ontario.

Starting small never hurt anyone, especially Rosalba Carriera – Venetian artist, a leader of the Italian Rococo movement and one of the most successful women artists in the 1700s.

Born in 1675, Carriera was taught the importance of intricate work by her mother, a lacemaker. Carriera later became an acclaimed miniaturist – an artist who specializes in painting miniature objects.

She began using pastels in 1703 and excelled as a portrait artist. After winning over Venetian patrons, her fame spread to the rest of continental Europe. She created portraits of Louis XV as a child and other members of the French aristocracy and court. A trendsetter, she is considered responsible for introducing the pastel portrait to France. Her pastel portraits are renowned for their soft lines and her ability to capture elements of the subject’s true self.

Sensitive to light, pastel works can only be exhibited for a few months at a time, which makes the installation of one an exciting moment. A gorgeous testament to her artistry, Carriera’s Portrait of a Woman from 1703 is now on view in the Frank P. Wood Gallery on Level 1. Small but enchanting, it stands out among other European works from the same era, thanks to its beautiful 18th century frame.

“There is much to admire about Rosalba Carriera’s delicate Portrait of a Woman, but I particularly like how Carriera’s use of pastel mimics how men and women in the 18th century doused themselves with layers of powder. Rosalba uses layers of white pastel to create those soft, almost translucent, skin tones,” says Carolyn Mensing, AGO Assistant Curator, Prints and Drawings.

We caught up with Carolyn to learn more about this incredible artist and her work. Watch the interview here.

Carolyn Mensing, Assistant Curator, Prints and Drawings speaks about Rosalba Carriera’s Portrait of a Woman.

Posted by AGO – Art Gallery of Ontario on Thursday, September 6, 2018

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