An allegory of summer and winter
(Giovanni Battista Pittoni)


Venice 1687-1767

An Allegory of Winter and Summer

Oil on canvas


Giovanni Battista Pittoni is one of the foremost representatives of the Venetian Rococo. First mentioned in the Libro della Fraglia Veneziana dei Pittori in 1716, he was the nephew and pupil of F. Pittoni (active between 1687 and 1712). In Pittoni’s early work, there are suggestions of Roman late Baroque painting which may be the result of his contact with A. Balestra (1666 1740) who was in Venice in 1700 18. In the 1720s and ’30s he produced light and vibrant pictures whose nervous brush strokes reveal the influence of S. Ricci (1659 1734) and G. B.Tiepolo (1696 1770). A sophisticated and attractive colorist, Pittoni often evokes an elegant Arcadian mood close to that of contemporary French painting. A further lightening of his palette later in his career went hand in hand with tamer compositions, influenced by the general trend towards Neo Classicism. Pittoni was Tiepolo’s successor as Director of the Venetian Academy of Painting and Sculpture between 1758 and 1760. His cabinet pictures of historical and religious subjects were much sought after by collectors in Germany, Poland and Russia.

The thematic material of this Allegory of Winter and Summer derives from C. Ripa’s Iconologia (1603). Though Pittoni has simplified the image, his depiction of Summer matches Ripa’s description: ‘A Young wmnan of ample form crowned with sprigs of wheat. Dressed in yellow, she holds a lighted torch in her right hand’ (Ripa, op. cit., p. 474). The companion figure corresponds to his strictures on the appearance of Winter: ‘An old, gray haired and wrinkled man or woman dressed in leather garments seated at a well appointed brazier at which he warms himself and eats’ (ibid., p. 475). A similar description is given for the month of February (ibid., p. 326). The small figure at the top to the right can be interpreted as following Ripa’s instructions for the Dawn (ibid., p. 95).

A. Binion connected this Allegory of Summer and Winter to Pittoni’s work of the mid 1720s, e.g. Venus and Cupid (formerly the Botta Collection, Milan) and a series of paintings once in Palazzo Porto, Trissino (Binion, p. 301). It does show affinities, in the interpretation of subject, the treatment of the broadly painted folds of drapery and the juxtaposition of the clear skin tones and deeper areas of color against a dark background, with the Omphale (the Pardo Collection, Paris) of about 1725 (Boccazzi, p. 152, no. 150, pl. 72). However, as pointed out by F. Zava Boccazzi, the handling of the picture exhibited here is more mature and the composition more complex and assured (ibid., p. 131). Therefore, a dating to about 1738, the year of its purchase by Schulenburg (Binion, p. 301), seems more probable.

The high quality of the painting and the more generous space around the outer edge of the figures, as well as its distinguished provenance, suggest that the Schulenburg Allegory of Winter and Summer was the prototype of the versions of this composition in the City Art Gallery, Bristol (125 x 112 cms., Boccazzi, p. 121, no. 33, fig. 393) and in the Art Institute, Dayton, Ohio (151 x 111 cms., ibid., p. 127, no. 56, pl. 394). A further version, once in the Haberstock Collection, Berlin, differs in the expression and slightly different angle of Summer’s face, and is, perhaps, as suggested by A. Binion (p. 301) a studio pro elect (142 x 110 cms., Boccassi, p. 137, no. 91, pl. 396). Both the Dayton and ex Haberstock pictures lack the putto at the right top. An oil study for the head of Winter is in an Italian private collection (ibid., p. 158, no. 176, pl. 396).

Among the many finished drawings which served as models for figures and details in Pittoni’s paintings where the same type and pose often appear in different compositions, there is a sheet of hands (no. 1612 (recto), the Academia, Venice) which may he preparatory for Winter’s in this picture (A. Binion, I disegni di Giambattista Pittoni, Florence, 19113, pp. 66 7, fig. 17).. The bottom right head on a fine red chalk drawing with two inclined female faces (no. 1624, the Accademia, Venice) can be related to that of Summer’s (ibid., p. 68, fig. 297).

In 1718 Marshal J. M. von der Schulenburg (1661 1747) settled in Venice at the end of a distinguished military career. He began to collect in 1724, at the age of sixty four, becoming one of the most important of the eighteenth century patrons and collectors (fur an account of his activity see: F. Haskell, Patrons and Painters, New Haven/London, 1980, pp. 310 16). The collection in Palazzo Luredan, until its dispersal after his death, comprised some 960 items of Ancient and contemporary painting and sculpture. Pittoni’s multiple activities fur Schulenburg are recorded from 1733 8 in the libri cassn in the State Archives, Hanover, after which his name no longer figures in the accounts. He was at once appraiser, restorer, adviser and supplier of his own and other men’s pictures.

The original painted inventory number 278 at the bottom left hand corner of this Allegory of Winter and Summer, corresponds to painting no. 278, then listed as a Vecchio al Fuoco, in an annotated copy of the catalogue of the Schulenburg collection printed in Berlin about 1750 (Binion, pp. 298 & 301). For many years, the picture exhibited here was on loan to the Niedersachsisches Landesmuseum, Hanover, where it was listed as an Inspiration of St. Jerome and ascribed to the circle of Piazzetta.

59 ½ x 44 ins. (151 x 112 cm.)
Oil on canvas

PROVENANCE: Purchased by Marshal J. M. von der Schulenburg from the artist in 1738 for 10 zecchini;
thence by family descent


LITERATURE: A. Binion, ‘From Schulenburg’s Gallery and Records’, The Burlington Magazine, CXII, 806, p. 301, fig. 34;
F. Zava Boccazzi, Pittoni, Venice, 1979, p. 131, no. 72.

Historical Period
Rococo - 1720-1780
Italian - Venetian
1987-The Settecento: Italian Rococo and Early Neoclassical Paintings,1700-1800.
An exhibition held on behalf of Aids Crisis Trust (UK) and The American Foundation for Aids Research (USA). Introduction by Charles McCorquordale. Essays by Francis Russell, Edgar Peters Bowron, and Catherine Whistler. 200 pages, 31 colour plates, 88 black and white illustrations. £15 or $23 inc. p.& p.

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