Click on photos to enlarge.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Giovanni Battista Piazzetta

Elisha Asking for Elijah's Mantle, Giovanni Battista, Piazzetta
When an artist makes a major "breakthrough" in terms of style or some other element, the influence of that artist may extend in various forms for several generations. Picasso and Cubism come to mind. The same could be said for Monet and Impressionism. Going back much farther Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling had the same effect as did Brunelleschi with regards to linear perspective. These milestones tend to make the artist a household name (in artistic households, at least). As an example, it would be hard to overstate the effect that Caravaggio's daring use of single-source lighting in his dramatic Baroque paintings. Few people today even remember the man's given name. Do you? His influence lasted at least as long as the Baroque era, which he helped usher in; and the utilization of such dramatic lighting, if not his painting style, could be said to have carried over several centuries later into the toolkit of virtually every Hollywood director today. I could, but won't, list dozens of painters from the Baroque era who latched onto Caravaggio's style and lighting techniques. Typical of them all would be Giovanni Battista Piazzetta.

The Sacrifice of Isaac, after 1735 (unfinished), Giovanni Battista Piazzetta
Giovanni Battista Piazzetta Self-portrait
If you've not heard of Piazzetta and his work, its probably because he was just one of a virtual explosion of Baroque artist in the years following Caravaggio who picked up on his style and made it popular as they attempted (with varying degrees of success) to make themselves popular. To understand the impact Caravaggio had upon this one artist, compare an early work by Piazzetta, Elisha Asking for Elijah's Mantle (top), with his The Sacrifice of Isaac (above, sometime between 1715 and 1735). It's also interesting to view the work of Piazzetta's friend and sometimes working partner, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and his The Sacrifice of Isaac (below), dating from between 1726-29. Both are quite definitely Baroque in the best sense of the word; and both were undoubtedly influenced by Caravaggio. But Tiepolo appears to have been able to "turn off" the single-source lighting effect at will. Piazzetta seldom did.

The Sacrifice of Isaac, 1726-29, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
Young Ensign, 1742, Giovanni Piazzetta
Piazzetta was born in 1682 (or 1683), the son of a Venetian woodcarver, Giacomo Piazzetta, from whom he first received instruction in art. Caravaggio died in 1610 so any influence he had upon Piazzetta was second or third-generation. Besides his father and the exceptional Venetian painter, Antonio Molinari, Piazzetta claimed to have studied under a number of lesser artists during a period when he lived in Bologna. One such teacher may have been Giuseppe Maria Crespi, from whom he likely received his Caravaggio traits, though the evidence is mostly circumstantial. In any case, Caravaggio's distinctive chiaroscuro begins showing up in Piazzetta's work from after around 1610, as seen in his The Annunciation (below), or his Young Ensign (right).

The Annunciation, Giovanni Battista Piazzetta
Judas Iscariot, Giovanni Piazzetta
Not surprisingly, Caravaggio's chiaroscuro does not lend itself to massive ceiling frescoes which, by their very nature, demand a much lighter, brighter, more decorative palette. That may, in fact, be the primary reason the version of The Sacrifice of Isaac by Tiepolo differs so dramatically from Piazzetta's. It's on a ceiling. It should be noted that when Piazzetta came upon the opportunity to render a ceiling fresco not unlike that of Tiepolo, as seen in his The Glory of St Dominic (below), from 1727, there is no trace of Caravaggio to be found (detail, below, right). And though Piazzetta's Young Ensign (above, right) might have been painted by Caravaggio himself, it's interesting that when Piazzetta created the portrait of Judas Iscariot (left), an unusual personage for a portrait in the first place, and whose biblical image might easily have lent itself to an exceptionally dramatic chiaroscuro handling, Piazzetta chose a fairly traditional balanced-light approach.

The Glory of St Dominic, 1727, (detail, below, right) Giovanni Battista Piazzetta
The Glory of St Dominic (detail)
Today, with digital photography and all the other modern conveniences an artist has at his or her disposal, we often take drawing, as an intricate component of painting, pretty much for granted. I think few art critics today would disagree that the art of drawing has become less important, and painters today less adept in using it, than those of the past. The reason is simple. Painters today don't absolutely need to be good at drawing. Painters in the past, whether using charcoal, pencil, chalk, or simply good old bitumen on a toned canvas could do little without drawing. Piazzetta was no exception. In fact, his drawing skills were exceptional. His A Young Woman Buying a Pink from a Young Man (below), from around 1740, features black crayon (wetted and rubbed), heightened with white chalk, on blue paper (now faded to green-gray).

A Young Woman Buying a Pink from a Young Man, ca. 1740, Giovanni Battista Piazetta
Junge Frau mit Hündchen,
Giovanni Battista Piazzetta
As fascinating as Piazzetta's religious works and portraits may be, as he migrates between styles, influences, and palettes, I find his genre paintings to be among his best small-scale works. This we can see in not just his drawings but in some pretty major easel paintings also. Sometimes he seems to combine the two, creating what I've called at various times with other similarly inclined painters, "religious genre." Piazzetta's Rebecca at the Well (below), is based upon scripture, of course. But it could also represent daily life from any era before electric pumps took over the task of raising water from great subterranean depths. Likewise, a painting attributed to Piazzetta, his Junge Frau mit Hündchen, (Young Woman with a Dog, left) seems as freshly modern as any genre scene painted today. Donut anyone?

Rebecca at the Well, Giovanni Battista Piazzetta.
(What's with her twisted arm?)
Judith and Holofernes, 1745, Giacomo Piazzetta
not as gruesome as it could have been given
the subject. You should see Caravaggio's
version...or Artemisia Gentileschi's.


No comments:

Post a Comment