An allegory of the arts
(Giovanni Battista Pittoni)


Venice 1687-1767

An Allegory of the Arts of Painting and Sculpture inspired by Learning

Oil on paper, laid on canvas

This disarming sketch with its spirited composition and brilliant colours, is unusual in Pittoni’s oeuvre, and would appear to be a prima idea for a larger picture. Its spontaneity and delicacy is accentuated by its support on paper laid on canvas. It also has an unexpected firmness of touch and monumentality unusual for Pittoni.

The entire composition suggests derivations from Veronese, particularly in the foreground figure, of Learning, whose contrapposto is typical of Veronese’s few slight concessions to Mannerist devices. A closely similar figure appears in the lower left corner of the ceiling fresco of Veronese’s so-called stanza del Cane in the Villa ex-Barbaro at Maser, showing Abondanza, Fortezza e Invidia. There, her left arm is crossed over her body. The build-up of figures with a columned background is also Veronesian in inspiration, recalling some of the earlier master’s Madonna compositions.

Possibly in part due to the work’s role as a preliminary sketch several curious features occur which seem to point to a more complex iconography than might at first appear. Noticeable is the fact that the statue being created by Sculpture is headless and the background column is either incomplete or, less likely, intended to appear broken. The winged putto bears a wreath, presumably intended for one of the figures below. It seems certain that both Painting and Sculpture listen to Learning, while the function of the fourth, unspecified, female figure is unclear. Thus a feasible interpretation might be that the wreath of fame will be given to the artist who enlists the help of learning.

This would make sense particularly if the sketch related in some way to Pittoni’s period as President of the Venetian Academy of Painting from 1658-61, a dating not unacceptable for this sketch’s style. The conspicuous references to Veronese – also revered by Pittoni’s predecessor as President, Giambattista Tiepolo – may also suggest that the picture is connected in some way with the Venice Academy.

In comparison with the more fragmented treatment of surfaces regularly found in Pittoni’s painting, here we see more general handling, with large blocks of colour making up the voluminous draperies. Cochin found fault with Pittoni’s ‘too beautiful colour’, but here the rich balance of different reds, aquamarine, blues, yellow-orange and grey-green is not over-indulgent.

Although antique and pseudo-antique sculptures figure extensively throughout Pittoni’s painting, they appear rarely to have more than a decorative function, and here the carved open vase and relief (apparently not the column base) serve only to balance the composition. Possibly the most conspicuously Neo-classical element is the putto which is reminiscent of French painters like Joseph-Marie Vien, in such pictures of this time as the Vendor of Cupids of 1763 (Fontainebleau, Palais).

16 1/8 x 10 ¼ ins. (41 x 26 cm.)
Oil on canvas
Historical Period
Rococo - 1720-1780
Italian - Venetian
1993-Fifty Paintings 1535 - 1825.
To celebrate Ten Years of Collaboration between The Matthiesen Gallery, London, and Stair Sainty Matthiesen, New York. 216 pages, 50 colour plates, numerous black and white text illustrations £20 or $32 inc. p.& p.

(Click on image above)
Price band
Sold or not available