ROSALBA CARRIERA – Perfection in Pastel in Dresden

Some artists are simply known by their first name Leonardo and Michelangelo being the most famous. However, there are also female painters of great acclaim of whom Artemisia is probably the most well-known. But there is one other female artist whose first name was enough to make you swoon: Rosalba.
Three hundred and fifty years after Rosalba Carriera’s birth her name again is the talk of the town, especially when this town is Dresden. The Gemäldergalerie Alte Meister is hosting an exhibition of its Seventy-three pieces, the largest collection of Rosalba’s work. This collection was once double this size and was located in a special gallery which bore her name. Unfortunately, due to their fragility many of them were lost in the Second Wold War.

Rosalba Carriera was born in Venice in 1675 and by the time she was 20 she was admitted to the Accademia di San Luca in Rome with a beautiful miniature painted with tempera on ivory instead of on parchment. This was highly unusual combination and was awarded the special distinction of an accademica di merito, and exceptional title for a woman since they were normally given the status of honorary membership, or accademica d’onore.

Her miniatures and decoration snuffboxes were highly sought after. The rich and famous bought her work directly from her and she had numerous influential friends both in Venice as well as Italy at large.
We do not know who trained her in this technique, nor do we know who introduced her shortly after her admission to the Accademia in Rome to pastel painting. And it was with this technique that she would become internationally famous. Many rulers wanted her to become their court painter and Johann Wilhelm, Elector Palatine in Düsseldorf, tried to lure her with the prospect of a meeting with the great Dutch female flower still live painter Rachel Ruys, who also worked for him.

Rosalba declined for there was enough work for her in Venice, it being a popular stop along the Grand Tour of the – mainly British – aristocracy. As is shown in the exhibition in Dresden she painted beautiful portraits of these tourists and locals alike, resulting in creating a visual memory of the Rococo. The pastel technique was an excellent way of expressing the fashion of this period: a pale, smooth skin with powdered hair and wigs. Even when painting religious scenes she would apply the same dreamy soft style.

Of course the question arises, why is she so little known today? Well, because in the following style period of Neo Classicism, the Rococo was considered to be a frivolous style which made pastel painting go out of fashion. Slowly but steadily we forgot all about Rosalba Carriera but thanks to this exhibition in Dresden she has regained her fame and in the future it will suffice to only refer to her as Rosalba.   Wendy Fossen

Rosalba Carriera – Perfection in Pastel continues at Gemäldergalerie Alte Meister in Dresden until 24th September.