Sunday, 13 July 2014


“All nature is but art unknown to thee.” - Alexander Pope

For Art Sunday, I am featuring a painter of the Baroque, Giovanna Garzoni (1600–1670). She was one of the first women artists to practice the art of still life painting, and she pursued her career with great passion. Garzoni trained with an otherwise unknown painter from her home town of Ascoli Piceno. She gained substantial success at her trade in Rome, Venice, Florence, Naples, and Turin. Cassiano dal Pozzo, Carlo Emanuele II, Duke of Savoy, the Medici family, and Anna Colonna, the wife of Taddeo Barberini, were among her patrons.

When the artist was thirty, she moved from Venice to Naples with her brother, and painted numerous miniatures for her patron, the Spanish Duke of Alcalà. In letters she professes to being unhappy in Naples, preferring to work in Rome. When the Duke of Alcalà returned to Spain, Garzoni used the opportunity to accept the invitation of the Duke of Savoy to move to Turin. She worked in Turin for five years but the commencement of the War of the Two Ladies forced her to leave. During the 1640s, the artist moved to Florence and became the official miniaturist to the Medici Court, painting numerous still-lifes for the Grand Duke Ferdinando II de Medici. By 1654, the artist settled in Rome where she renewed her activity with the Accademia di San Luca, an association of artists founded in 1593. Although it was not customary to admit women to the organisation, records show that she enjoyed many of the same benefits as male members (including cakes brought to her when she was ill).

During her life, Garzoni’s paintings were so well liked that, according to one writer, she could sell her work “for whatever price she wished.” One of Garzoni's earliest works, a 1625 calligraphy book, includes capital letters illuminated with fruits, flowers, birds, and insects. These subjects were to become her specialty, and tempera on vellum was her preferred medium. Garzoni’s refined interpretation of plants and animals suited the taste of her aristocratic patrons, like the Medici family, and could be found decorating their villas. Her work is delicate and botanically accurate, the composition well balanced, and looking deeper into her work one can contemplate a higher philosophy.

In 1666, Garzoni made a will bequeathing her entire estate to the painters’ guild in Rome, the Accademia di San Luca, on condition that they erect her tomb in their church of Santi Luca e Martina. She died four years later, after enjoying a life of steady work and constant success. Mattia De Rossi designed the funerary monument, making Garzoni the first woman artist to have her portrait on her tomb.

Her “Still Life with Bowl of Citrons” above, painted in the late 1640s is typical of her work. It is painted in tempera on vellum, and its dimensions are, height: 276 mm (10.87 in) and width: 356 mm (14.02 in). Current location of the work: The J. Paul Getty Museum. A finely drawn work with delicate stippling in colour provides a botanically accurate view of the citron, Citrus medica (“the Median apple”), a fruit native to Persia and Media and the first of the citrus fruits to appear in the Mediterranean Basin. The fruit has a thick white rind and inconsequential flesh, which is used to make preserves, is candied and made into jam, as well as being pickled. The citron is also used by Jews (the word for it in Hebrew is “etrog”) for a religious ritual during the Feast of Tabernacles; therefore is considered as a Jewish symbol, and is found on various Hebrew antiques and archeological findings. Citrons used for ritual purposes cannot be grown by grafting branches.

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