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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.

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