Skip to main content

Pittoni's Venetian Flair

The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, ca.1726

Born June 6, 1687 in Venice, Giovanni Battista Pittoni was a late Baroque/early Rococo painter. Pittoni enjoyed a popular career throughout Europe both as an artist and restorer, and at the age of 71 he became the second president of the famous Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia whose alumni include not only Tiepolo but Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, Francesco Hayez, and Antonio Rotta among others. Pittoni's work is characterized by grand gesture, strong, dramatic figures and of course, being Venetian, a bold palette of beautiful colors.

Look at The Rest on the Flight into Egypt above and we immediately see two interesting things: a low viewpoint, where our eye level is right about at baby Christ's yet intersects the waistline of Joseph and just below the neckline of Mary, and second, dynamic figure placement that focuses on Mary and Joseph more than baby Jesus. I love how Joseph is portrayed in true Humanist style, sculptural and strong, while Mary is Venetian and feminine. Pittoni's approach is much more Baroque than previous interpretations of this very common theme (compare with these versions by Fra Bartolomeo and Caravaggio).

Giovanni Battista Pittoni - Sacrifice of Isaac - WGA17977
Sacrifice of Isaac, 1713

Pittoni has a spontaneous and lively approach to his figures not often seen in any period, especially Rococo. This theme of Isaac about to be sacrificed by Abraham has been portrayed by countless artists and sculptors but Pittoni chooses a low view-point again and has the angel looking away from us, her wrist locked around Abraham's while pointing toward Heaven. This version is also unique in that Issac is blindfolded, and only a handful of artists have repeated this theme of youth's inexperience and innocence. However, Pittoni's Issac is also a strong young man untying himself, hardly innocent, yet humbled by the experience of God's mercy. Note Pittoni's dramatic palette of blues here, in the drapery of Abraham and Isaac's (a brighter colour), and the deep sky beyond. He then uses yellow and light red as accents. Beautiful work.

Eliezer and Rebecca, ca.1725

Pittoni's body language is superb and elegant here. Here Eliezer, a servant of Abraham, rewards the kindness of Rebecca for giving water to his camels by adorning her wrist with jewels as an engagement present to wed his son, Isaac. It appears that Pittoni has chosen Abraham himself to do the job, as he looks like the exact same model in Sacrifice of Isaac and as Joseph in The Rest on the Flight into Egypt (and using the same model for Isaac also). Note once again Pittoni's use of blue here, and how Rebecca wears a very light blue to indicate her honest virtue, with the sky behind her emphasizing this theme. The camels off to the far left appear to have been added as a last minute element to tie in the story and are admittedly weak, especially the grinning one but the key human figures are perfectly balanced in the way that Rebecca's arm leads the eye right up to her face.

The Massacre Of The Innocents, ca. 1760

A popular theme among painters in one of the New Testament's most violent stories. Herod's systematic infanticide of all male born babies is portrayed here in vivid detail, sometimes disturbingly gory (note baby being stabbed on far right), yet Pittoni seamlessly creates dynamic figures, incredible composition and beautiful colours to narrate this ancient account. Look at how Pittoni's facial expressions depict the horror of these mothers. Yet the flow of the figure arrangement here is musical in the way they flow downward, all controlled by dramatic arm movements that narrate and lead the eye simultaneously. Even the way the soldier on horseback with his draped spear pointing downward at an angle toward the action below. I love how the one woman somehow has found a knife and now wields it against her child's attacker, who cowers in fear. Pittoni's brushwork here is also rich and beautiful. Each figure here is sculptural, and although a dark theme it is far less disturbing than the more familiar version by Rubens. This is a masterpiece.

Pittoni Bacchus and Ariadne
Bacchus and Ariadne, ca.1720

Here Pittoni conjures pure sensuality and beauty for the eyes. Although the proportions here are wonky in how Bacchus is quite a bit larger than Ariadne, the composition still flows smoothly. A beautiful palette with nice skin tones against the warm grey hues of the clouds. Just look at how Pittoni reflects the green hues of the drapery against the chest of Bacchus. There seems to be a very slight sexual innuendo here also, in how Bacchus is arranged with that green drapery and his groin somewhat suggestively close to the face of Ariadne. In his hand he holds the crown which will make her into the constellation Corona Borealis.

Pittoni is a true Venetian Master and a gifted storyteller who created gorgeous and sensual compositions. He is a true painter's painter and a musician with the brush. His work is a visual symphony that can be enjoyed, over and over again.


Popular posts from this blog

More Old Master Drawings

There is nothing in all the world more beautiful or significant of the laws of the universe than the nude human body. Robert Henri Charles Louis Müller , A Standing Female Nude Leaning Against an Arch, ca.1864 Once again I decided to talk about some Old Master drawings and delve into the thinking behind how these drawings may have been created and the knowledge of the artist. In the above drawing by Müller, done in sanguine with white chalk highlights, the figure is drawn from a low view-point, with her body twisting toward her left side while resting on one knee. Note how Müller alternates the bent right leg with the bent left arm to create dynamic contrast. The right arm is also foreshortened and partially in shadow. Expressing power and femininity, this is a study that is Renaissance in spirit, even Mannerist, revealing the female nude as sculptural yet always graceful. Anton Raphael Mengs , Seated male nude viewed from the back, 1755 One of several Academic nu


Nymphs and Satyr, 1873 If there is one artist today that hardly needs an introduction, it would be William-Adolphe Bouguereau , supreme giant of 19th century Academic art. Born on November 30, 1825 in La Rochelle on the southwest of France, his talent would define the era he lived in only to fall into obscurity for decades after his death in 1905 until as recent as the early 1980's, shockingly. Today he has the distinction of being lionized by the Art Renewal Center as one of the greatest artists of all time while at the other end of the spectrum vilified by modernists as artificially perfect and sentimental. In fact it is quite rare to see such polarization over an artist of a calibre like Bouguereau, whose bravura is difficult to equal yet at the same time thematically his work admittedly tends toward women and children, a subject matter that sold well and he had endless patience for. Over the vast array of his oeuvre, some 820 paintings, I have tried to find some of his v

The Genius of Ramon Casas

Open Air Interior, 1892 Born on January 4, 1866 in Barcelona, Ramon Casas i Carbó was a Spanish portrait painter and graphic designer. He was a contemporary of Santiago Rusiñol , both founders of the Spanish art movement modernisme . Where Santiago painted pensive interiors and moody landscapes, Casas focused more on the portrait and figure with a penchant for costume and posture. His palette often consists of more muted tones with vibrant color accents. Casas enjoyed a lengthy and prominent career throughout Europe and South America where he often exhibited in shows with his friend Rusiñol. In Open Air Interior above, Casas encapsulates a quiet moment outdoors during tea time. I love these kind of paintings for their calm visual intensity. The way that man sits in his chair, lost in thought while his wife carefully stirs her tea...this is the kind of mindfulness in the subjects that makes us, the viewer, envision ourselves in this scene. Casas paints the far wall of the house