Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice: Where art is also female

Rosalba Carriera - Maria Theresia

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On International Women's Day, we celebrate the power, resilience and achievements of women around the world and throughout history. Did you know that even in the 18th century, amidst a male-dominated art world, a few Venetian women defied expectations and carved their names in artistic history? Today, we shine a light on two of these women: Rosalba Carriera and Giulia Lama, both masters of their craft who managed to captivate Europe with their artistic skills, groundbreaking techniques and penchant for breaking gender norms.

Ready to discover the stories of these Venetian art legends? Let’s get started!

Rosalba Carriera

One of the most famous and important female artists ever, Rosalba Carriera, was born in Venice in 1673. Her mother worked as an embroideress and lacemaker, often employing the help of her young daughter. As you can see, Rosalba was exposed to creative processes at a very young age! But as fate would have it, Rosalba’s future did not lie in embroidery and lacemaking, a business which became less and less profitable at the time. Instead, she developed a passion for painting miniatures on tobacco boxes, which also provided her and her family with a small but important income on the side while also showcasing just how artistically talented Rosalba really was.

Rosalba Carriera rose to prominence in the art world when she started painting portraits in pastel. Soon, it became clear that she was not only a talented artist, but also a pioneer of her craft! The use of pastels in portraits was pretty much unheard of at the time, but Rosalba showed the world that they could be a viable option for the creation of such paintings. Word about her innovative style spread quickly, and in seemingly no time, Rosalba created portraits of the most prominent nobles that visited her hometown of Venice: Maximilian II of Bavaria and Frederick IV are just two of many nobles who learned to appreciate the talents of Rosalba Carriera during her early days as a painter.

But her talents soon gained recognition outside of Venice, and even outside of Italy as well! From 1720 to 1721, she made her way to Paris, becoming a respected and in-demand artist in the French capital. Once again, she gained the respect of nobility and was subsequently chosen to create portraits of significant historical figures like Louis XV, among many others. While Rosalba spent only one year in Paris, her time there proved to be incredibly influential on the city’s, and later on even the continent’s, taste in art: She is often credited with being instrumental to the creation of the “Rococo” style which became all the rage across Europe in the 1730s!

After her short stay in Paris, she returned to Venice. Travel, however, remained a big part of her life and career, which also allowed her to develop a very close relationship to her sister Giovanna, who always accompanied Rosalba no matter where she went. In 1730, Rosalba reached the royal court in Vienna, Austria, giving the Empress artistic training while her own work enjoyed the full support of none other than Emperor Charles VI! Rosalba Carriera was living the good life, but unfortunately, the last few decades of her eventful life were plagued by one misfortune after another…

In 1738, her beloved sister Giovanna passed away, causing Rosalba to fall into a deep depression. Not only that, but her eyesight slowly started to fade away, and following two unsuccessful surgeries, she was completely blind. Rosalba Carriera passed away in 1757 at the age of 84, spending her final years in a small house located in Venice’s Dorsoduro district.

Giulia Lama

At around the same time when Rosalba Carriera was making a name for herself, yet another legendary female artist from Venice was doing the exact same thing. Born in 1681, Giulia Lama received artistic training from her family starting at a very young age, which only made sense, considering that both her father and godfather were artists themselves. She put her family’s lessons to good use, becoming a true creative powerhouse of 18th century Venice, notable for her extreme use of “chiaroscuro”, a painting technique which utilizes strong contrasts between light and dark, creating a tense atmosphere in her paintings which was otherwise rarely seen at the time.

Through her art, she managed to become financially independent (something very unusual for women at the time) while overcoming many of the barriers faced by women in the world of art. She became one of the first women to create nude drawings, studying both the male and female figures. Furthermore, Giulia Lama also found great success in a genre of art that was, until then, reserved for men only: The art of history painting.

Besides painting, she also had a knack for poetry and even mathematics, and just like the aforementioned Rosalba Carriera, she dabbled in lacemaking and embroidery for a while. Giulia was also said to be not only creatively gifted, but also incredibly smart and well spoken, as proven by a quote by Abate Conti which impressively manages to both insult and compliment her at the same time:

"The poor girl is persecuted by the painters, but her virtue triumphs over her enemies. It is true that she is as ugly as she is witty but she speaks with grace and precision, so that one easily forgives her face."

Unlike Rosalba Carriera, Giulia Lama never left the city of Venice, never got married and lived a quiet life, enjoying a very close relationship with her family. She died of the plague in 1747, and while her paintings certainly found their audience during her lifetime, her work didn’t gain truly wide-spread attention until around the 20th century. While she never got to experience just how beloved her work would one day become, Giulia Lama is now known not only as a talented 18th century artist, but also as a woman who, against all odds, managed to support herself thanks to her sheer creative talent and skills!

Gallerie dell'Accademia

Imagine if there was ONE single place where you could explore the works of BOTH of these incredible artists. Well… You’re in luck!

By visiting the famous “Gallerie dell'Accademia” in Venice, you’ll be able to admire paintings by both Rosalba Carriera and Giulia Lama, as well as many other legendary painters in person! Since 1879, this gallery has been the home of pre-19th-century Venetian art, nowadays offering a glimpse into the city’s rich artistic history and its most important figures like few other places can.

Want to combine a visit to the “Gallerie dell'Accademia” with a tour dedicated to a choice of famous Venetian painters including Rosalba Carriera and Giulia Lama or would you rather prefer the art of the 17th century?
Either way, make sure to contact us at Unfold Travel for a custom-made tour that will be sure to make you fall in love with Venetian art.

Image source: Rosalba Carriera, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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