Venice Academy – Room XIII – Sala Dei Paesista

Room 13 holds eight pastel portraits by Rosalba Camera, besides several others that may or may not be her own work. The greatest number of the pastels of this famous woman are in the Dresden Gallery, but some of these in Venice rank higher, artistically, than many in the German gallery. Among the best are the portraits of herself, of Cardinal de Polignac, Abbot le Blond, and of two noblemen.

Her own represents her as a woman nearing later middle age, with curling gray hair, dark, exquisitely curved eyebrows, and dark eyes, with a chin that is surely if not strongly double. Her waist is red, fur-edged, cut décolleté, over a white lace vest, with a blue and white chiffon scarf falling over her shoulders. The pure, peach-toned complexion, the soft contours of the neck and bust, the smooth, untroubled brow, the half-smiling ex-pression, — these, the attributes of almost all the feminine portraits by Rosalba, are here in all their perfection of rendering. It is an amiable if slightly self-satisfied lady that the artist makes of herself, with unmistakable marks of the woman of breeding, of the world of society. Technically, it is better drawn than many of her most celebrated works.

The Portrait of Cardinal Polignac shows the prelate turned three-quarters to the left, wearing the red cap of his office. He wears, also, the blue ribbon and the cross of the Order of the Holy Spirit. The background is green. It is a spirited yet delicate portrait with the sympathetic, sensitive touches so characteristic of Rosalba.

The painter of this and these other soft-toned, silvery pastels, Rosa Alba Carriera, was born in Venice in 1676, and before she was twenty-four she was well-known and admired for her miniatures and portrait-pastels. She was eminently successful all through her long, artistic career, her portraits being always in great demand in all the courts of Europe. She visited France when about forty-five and was made much of by court, painters, musicians, and litterateurs. Her salon was crowded with the distinguished people of the day, she was made an Academician, and all Paris clamoured for work from her hand.

The fame she achieved in her own day has to a certain extent remained hers through all the changing fashions and styles of the years since. It is perfectly apparent that she was not a good draughtsman ; that she had never sufficiently studied the. human figure is seen in her frequently ill-joined arms and shoulders, heads and necks. It is even probable that she can be suspected of following, more or less unconsciously, a receipt in mixing her flesh-tones. Her fair women have a too uniform loveliness of pearly skin, rosy cheeks, and delicate, greenish shadows that sink so softly into the white powdered skin. Yet, there is so much charm to these courtly dames or sentimental maid-ens, such a spiritual touch in the mere handling of the crayon, that posterity has been indulgent to Rosalba’s weaknesses and has accorded her more praise than has been bestowed upon many a stronger painter.

Of as indisputable talent as Tiepolo himself was Pietro Longhi, who has a number of works in this room. Though he never, in his later and better years, even attempted the ” grand style,” he as well as Gianbattista can be called a not unworthy descendant of the Venetian painters of the sixteenth century. This, too, notwithstanding that from one point of view his work can be called slight, almost puerile. It deals neither with big themes nor does it show any particular largeness of treatment. Longhi aspired to be neither a painter of religious scenes nor was he a decorator of walls or ceilings. His art dealt principally with just such subjects as have always delighted the Dutchman’s heart. In his own way, from the point of view of his own nationality, he was as fertile, as delightful, and as true a painter of genre as was De Hooch or Terborch. And certainly not even these famous Netherlanders ever better adapted their style to their subjects. He does not concern himself with beauty, per se. What he does attempt is to portray truthfully the daily, intimate life of the middle and upper class Venetians of his day, a day, by the way, that lasted for nearly a century, for Longhi was born in 1702 and lived till 1785. He is as true an historian in his own field as was Veronese in his. Within the limits of his little canvases Venice of the eighteenth century is seen walking, smiling, dancing, gossiping, coquetting. And if he seldom touches the tragedy that under-lay this rather flippant Venice, he is only expressing Venice as she was. If her dominion was over, if she was a slave where once she was the queen of the world, at least she outwardly shed no tears regretting her past glories. The sun was as bright, the lagoon as fair, the city as blooming as ever. Wherefore, — smile and take the gifts the gods have given, and live the life that is next you without regrets. That is the key-note to these gay little scenes from Longhi’s brush. If, as Alexandre suggests, he occasionally shows something of the satirical glee of a Hogarth, it is but for a moment, and he is back again, the Venetian philosopher, happy in his own individual life and quite willing to let Church and state wag as they will.

In the Apothecary’s Shop the proprietor of the establishment is standing in the centre of the room, a big nightcap on his head, full dressing-gown coming almost to the ground, and heavy-rimmed glasses perched far down on his long Roman nose. He is engaged in the act of pulling out a tooth from the mouth of a young woman standing beside him. She is a buxom maiden, dressed in the low-cut, square bodice of the time. On one side farther back a man with a long, curly wig is sitting writing at a table next a girl, and farther back still are seen a priest and another wigged man. In the fore-ground a boy is filling some bottles, many more of which, along with glasses, china mugs, and boxes, line the shelves about the room.

The colour here is perhaps not quite equal to some of the others in the same room, but as a bit of pure genre it can hardly be excelled. The variety of type in the heads and the character dis-played in each face make it worthy to rank with far more noted canvases.

More brilliant in colour is the Concert, and not less remarkable for its character delineation. Behind a table covered with a brocaded cover stand the three musicians, each with his violin, and each playing away lustily. The one in the centre, who is apparently the leader, is much taller than the others, and in his full yellow gown and big cap on his extraordinarily pale face makes an imposing figure. He on the right is considerably older and, peering through glasses that are half off his nose, he is studying the music before him in an anxiety that fairly doubles him over. At the left a much younger, dark haired and eyed youth follows the score, and keeps close to the leader. Somewhat back of this group, at the left, a fat monk sits at a small table playing cards with a thin-faced old man, another, younger one, observing the play from behind through a monocle. None of these is paying the slightest attention to the music, and if Longhi was slyly smiling when he placed that gross-featured, swollen-eyed monk next the hatchet-faced old gentleman with his deprecatory manner, he must have been fairly laughing when he made the only auditor of the concert the tiny pet dog sitting ona the chair in front of the table. Her intense absorption in the playing is wonderful to behold. It must, one is tempted to think, have been quite as satisfying to the trio as any that could have been manufactured by the card-players behind !

The Dancing Master introduces a more aristocratic company. Here is the interior of a stately furnished room with a tremendous sofa at the back, deep hangings at the window, and an elaborately framed picture on the wall. The central part of the room is quite filled by the voluminous skirts of the young girl who is being instructed in the mysteries o,f ” steps ” by the master in peruke and wide sweeping coat. He is standing facing her, the tips of the fingers of his right hand just touching the tips of hers. He is a very debonair dancing-master in his fine silk hose and shiny buckled shoes, lace ruffles, and immaculate peruke. Not altogether satisfied does he appear with the pirouetting of his fair pupil either, for he is pointing down to her little slippered feet as if emphasizing his admonitions. She is dressed right royally in an extremely low bodice trimmed with fur, jewels about her neck and in her ears, and lace frills sticking out on each side of her head almost like a Dutch cap. At the left, in the foreground, sits the duenna in rich furs and silks, and in the background the fiddler plays with as disinterested an air as if he were a machine guaranteed to go till it runs down ! The colour and atmosphere of this little canvas are delightful, and the serious air pervading the scene of frivolity is vastly amusing.

There are several pictures by Zuccherelli in both Rooms 13 and 14, one of the better ones in the latter being the Repose in Egypt. In this the Ma-donna is shown in the middle of the scene, sitting on a hillock, turned in profile to the right, holding the Child Jesus. Somewhat behind, at the left, Joseph is seen picking fruit. At the right is a river, farther in the distance a house, and mountains break the horizon.

Francesco Zuccarelli, as his name is also spelled, was born at Pitigliano, Tuscany, about 1792. He was a pupil of Gian Maria Morandi of Rome, and he worked at Venice, London, and Florence, in which place he died in 1788. He was both a landscape and a figure painter. Lanzi says of him that he ” applied himself to painting landscape; and pursued it in a manner that united strength and sweetness; . . . his figures were also elegant, and these he was sometimes employed to introduce in the landscapes and architectural pieces of other artists.” He lived in England for a good many years where he was greatly favoured by George III., and he was one of the original members of the English Royal Academy. For the degenerate time in which he lived he was a not unsuccessful painter. Compared with even the second-rate men of the golden days of the Renaissance, however, he was puerile, affected, and insufficiently trained.

Decidedly more real talent had Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, who has one very charming picture in Room 14. Battista was born in 1683 and died in 1754. He studied the works of Guercino in Bologna, and this painter’s influence can easily be seen in his compositions, although M. Charles Blanc has called him ” a Venetian Caravaggio.” Molmenti says that he was superior to Lazzarini both by the vigour of his colour and the solidity of his forms. His flesh-tones have a luminous, tender quality that makes them very charming, and his chiaroscuro shows a comprehension of the dramatic possibilities of light and shade that superficially may indeed remind one of Caravaggio. But he has a lightness of touch and fancy that, though partaking of the triviality of the eighteenth century, is remarkably effective in both his religious scenes and his pictures of genre. He is at his best in what may be called semiportraiture. The heads in his pictures show his faculty for indicating momentary emotion, though the emotion may not be profound or deep.

One of his most attractive pictures anywhere, and by far the best in the Academy, is the one called the Fortune-teller, in Room 14. It represents a young girl seated in nearly full face on a rock, holding a little dog under one arm, while another girl leans over her at the left, holding her hand. Back, at the right, a youth in profile and a third maiden are talking and laughing wholly regardless of the others in front. The light strikes full against the girl on the rock, emphasizing her smiling face, crowned by its straw hat, intensifying the bright tones of her white dress and pink underskirt, and sweeping, too, over the soft, round prettiness of the fortune-teller’s bare shoulder. Not less effective is the treatment of the two farther away from the centre of interest; especially charming is the piquant face of the girl looking up at her admirer with a half-tender, half-laughing gaze. It is an expression that fairly characterizes the whole picture. What might be sentimentality, under the gay insouciance of Piazzetta’s treatment is transformed to a sort of half-tender amusement. Technically, the freedom and ease of the brush-work, the well-balanced composition, and the excellent understanding shown in construction, modelling, and chiaroscuro, joined to a really lovely colour scheme, make this not un-worthy of a painter who is said to have influenced Tiepolo, and who was the greater man’s brother-in-law.

Antonio Canale, born in 1697 and dying in 1768, and Francesco Guardi, fifteen years younger, are the two painters of the eighteenth century whose entire talents were devoted to reproducing the out-ward aspects of their city. Though they are less alike in their renderings than the ordinary observer supposes, neither ever tired of portraying the streets, the piazzi, the canals, the palaces, and the churches of the Queen of the Adriatic. Even to-day the pictures by these two men are sought for with avidity by the connoisseur and the dilettante. Canaletto’s art was more exact, more photographic, more true. His drawing was infinitely superior to Guardi’s, and his perspective was marvellously perfect. His treatment of light and shade shows less forced contrasts than does that of Guardi, the latter achieving by this very means a brilliance, a sparkle, an iridescence of tone that seldom appears in the canvases of the more re-strained Canaletto. Guardi is an idealist where Canaletto may be called a realist. At times Guardi’s works show a poetic vision rare with Canaletto, but on the other hand Guardi’s very lack of the sterner foundation of his art gives his buildings, his towers, his churches, an unstable, unbuilt appearance. Mr. Simonson, in his appreciation of Guardi, admirably sums him up as follows : ” The great charm of his best paintings consists in the bloom which he imparted to them. They have an appearance of freshness as if they had only just been painted. The harmony of soft tones peculiar to his pictures may be likened unto that of the colours of the rainbow, in which each colour passes over into the one next to it almost imperceptibly. Soberness of tone is a characteristic common to all his works. . . . In the treatment of colour he aimed at decorative harmony rather than truth.” ” Canale, says the same critic, did not harmonize his tones as perfectly as Guardi, and was not, generally speaking, as good a colourist as his pupil. His schemes of colour are severer than Guardi.”

Neither one of these two men is adequately represented at the Academy. Indeed, the finest works of each are to be found, not in Italy, but in England. The best of the three Canale’s is the one in Room 14, the Scuola Grande of S. Marco. This is small, but light and bright in tone, with the sunlight dancing on the right side of the picture, the left thrown into shadow. Gondolas and boats of all sorts are seen at the left on the Canal Mendicanti ; at the right is a view of the Scuola, which is now the city hospital, and the Church of SS. Giovanni e Paolo. On the quay are a number of promenaders.

In the same room are several canvases by Guardi. One, which has been catalogued under the name of Canale, is the Courtyard of a Palace, with the delicate façade and stairways and porticoed entrances that can only be found in Venice. His most beautiful work here, however, is the view of S. Giorgio Maggiore, which was presented to the Academy by Prince Liechtenstein. At the left are shown the façade of the church, the cupola, and the Campanile. On the right, with the sea against the horizon between, is the Island of the Giudecca with Il Redentore. The entire foreground is the Grand Canal filled with fishing-boats and barks of all sorts. The rippling of the waves, sun-kissed, the depth of tone in the wide-arching sky, the softness of the middle distance, are here Guardi at his best.

Of the four pictures catalogued under Tiepolo’s name, St. Joseph with the Child Jesus accompanied by Four Saints, which is in this room, is the only one in the Academy given him by Berenson. It is a characteristic composition, with amazingly clever drawing and a striking use of shadow.

In the foreground, on the lowest step of what is presumably an altar within a church, kneels St. Francis of Paolo, in his monk’s robes, with the hood pulled over his head. He is leaning forward on his staff, but instead of gazing altarward his face is turned around over his shoulder, his eyes straying out of the picture. On the pedestal before him Joseph is holding the Child Jesus. He is a fat, solidly built infant, with large, steady eyes, and thick curling hair, and only the glow about his head differentiates him from any baby of the eighteenth or the present century. Joseph, who stands behind him, is an impressive, if slightly melodramatic, figure. He is in full face, and the light strikes him sharply across the forehead and floods the left side of his head, throwing the other into deep, resonant shadow. This shadow spreads over his entire right shoulder, arm, and chest, making the brilliantly lighted flesh of the baby’s body all the more marked against this sombre back-ground. Joseph’s left hand is pressed against his heart, and he is apparently begging for his precious charge the mercy of Heaven. More appealing than his pleading, emotion-stirred face is that splendidly drawn hand, with the light and shadow playing so marvellously upon it that it seems positively articulate with expression. Just as realistic, if some-thing less fine in feeling, are the joined hands of Anna, who, represented as an old but still vigorous woman, is kneeling at the right of the pedestal. The shadow mostly envelops her, but her hands, her left shoulder, and left side of face are thrown into light only less intense than that which plays over the baby’s body. Behind her, one leaning against a huge cross, the other in profile beside him, are two tonsured saints, the serene contemplation of the latter a foil for the wrinkled, lined, agonized face of the other.

Here, as in most of Tiepolo’s canvases, it is over-expression, theatric gestures, and facial contortions that cheapen the artistic value of works that, nevertheless, are of undoubted genius.

In this room is one example of that side of Tie-polo’s art in which he was unquestionably the greatest. For it is as a decorator of walls and ceilings that the eighteenth-century painter is most audaciously extraordinary, most triumphantly successful. His frescoes show him the lineal descend-ant of the greatest Venetian mural painter of the sixteenth century, Paolo Veronese.

St. Helena Finding the Holy Cross is a round ceiling fresco painted originally for the Church of the Capucines at Castello. It has been restored, but for once the renovator did not succeed in spoiling the beautiful creation. The clear, silvery lights, the harmony of the darker, richer tones, the daring originality of the composition, the extraordinary foreshortening, showing such complete mastery of perspective and construction, — all this, remarkable as it is, is nothing compared with the luminosity that radiates from the whole surface and makes it seem as if one’s eyes were actually gazing into unfathomable ether.

Standing on what might be a cornice of a marble temple that rises high against the sky, is St. Helena. Dressed in richest satins that almost overwhelm her with their billowing folds and flying draperies, a string of pearls in her blond hair, she is showing to the gathered peoples of the earth the True Cross. This is held in place before her by the bare, straining, muscular arms of half-nude men. At the foot of the cross kneels a white-bearded bishop in elaborate dalmatic. In front of him, at the lower, outer edge of the circle, are a workman with a long-handled spade, a dog, other men, and horses, all in an inextricable confusion. Across from Helena, on what appears like an open car, are the sick and wounded, stretched on mattress or held up by others, all gazing with adoring faith at the cross. Behind them, only partly within the composition, comes a galloping steed bearing a plumed, helmeted knight riding as if on a race with death itself. All this part of the composition fills considerably less than half the circle. The rest is sky and clouds and floating-winged babies, cherubim, and soft-robed angels swinging censers and holding the placard marked I. N. R. I. The lightness and delicacy of the sky and the lilt and spring of these angelic forms are fairly indescribable.