Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rosalba Carriera and the Rococo Style

            Rosalba Carriera was an influential female portrait artist during the Rococo period in Italy and France.  She specialized in using the pastel medium, which most artists at the time used only for simple sketching. She was known to soften figures with stumping or rubbing with a dry cloth and developed a dry-brush technique that helped to give a gauzy appearance to clothing (AICMS Vol. 26).  Her skill and technique proved that pastel’s could be used as a medium for finished works of art.  Even though she didn’t come from a wealthy family, her mother was a lace maker and her father was a clerk, she was raised with a humanist education and learned music, Latin, and French.  She started her career as a miniature portrait artist, and developed into doing full portraits for tourists, often young gentlemen doing their Grand Tour to Italy.  Soon after arriving in Paris, her artistic skill was recognized and she was asked to become a member of French Royal Academy in 1720, an honor that had been bestowed to very few women at the time.

            Carriera also created allegorical pictures along with portraits.  “A Young Lady with a Parrot” is a combination of portraiture and allegory.  Done with pastel on paper, the portrait captures the rich pastel colors of the clothing, the varied texture of clothing and hair, the graceful lines of the figure and the hands, and the provocativeness and grace of the female figure.  The picture also captures the Rococo characteristics of lavishness and the theme of eroticism and the interest in nature.

            Even though the picture is done in pastel, Carriera still captures the rich color of the satin garments and the luminescent glow of the pearls that wrap around the neck of the figure.  The dark monochromatic background seem to make the colors of the garment and the pale skin of the figure seem to almost glow and standout.  There is an interest in texture, similar to that of Northern European artists, which helps to accentuate the richness of the figure.  The satin garment seems to shine and glow and there is a sense of lightness and sheerness to the lace, the soft curls of the hair frame the porcelain like face with it’s smooth skin, and she even portrays the texture of downy feathers on the parrot.  The lines of the arm and the hands are graceful.  There isn’t the strong sense of diagonals and energetic compositions of the baroque period, instead there is a soft dreamy feel to the picture. The composition forms a loose triangular composition.  The figure’s right arm forms one side of the triangle leading the eye to the top of the triangle at the head, then to the right side of the triangle, which is formed by her slightly exposed chest, and the parrot she holds in her left hand.  The parrot not only shows the Rococo interest in nature but is also said to be an allegory for seductiveness.  The provocative gesture of “baring one’s breast” is transferred to the parrot (AICMS Vol.26).  The theme of eroticism and the lavishness of the woman’s jewelry and clothing are other characteristics of the Rococo style.  Because of the intimate nature of the portrait, it was probably meant for an intimate setting. 

According to Bernardina Sani, the sitter could be the figure of a young Englishwoman, maybe one of the daughters of Lord Manchester (AICMS Vol. 26).  There is an interest in naturalism in the figure and with the parrot, but the figure has also been idealized.  The anatomy seems true to life but the woman is shown at the peak of young womanhood with very pale skin and incredibly rosy cheeks, and unnaturally red shiny lips.  The skin shows no wrinkles or flaws, or even any creases and the fingers of the figure’s left hand seem very skinny and somewhat elongated.

The portrait of “A Young Lady with a Parrot” shows Carriera’s skill as a portrait artist using pastel medium to create finished and provocative works of art that fit with the Rococo style of the early 18th century.  She creates an idealized figure of a young woman that has a dreamy and soft, yet charged with sexuality.  She shows off the aristocracy’s interest in wealth by showing the rich texture in the satin and the lace, and by showing off the abundant string of pearls and the jewels that decorate the young lady.  The figure demonstrates the Rococo interest in nature with the parrot but also the interest in love and seductive subject matter with the revealing of the figure’s chest.


National Museum of Women in the Arts

The Art Institue of Chicago
“A Young Lady with a Parrot”

A Young Lady with a Parrot, c. 1730
Rosalba Carriera
Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies
Vol. 26, No. 1, Maineri to Miró: The Regenstein Collection since 1975 (2000), pp. 30-31+93

Art History. Stokstad, Marilyn and Cothren, Michael.  Prentice Hall.  Fourth Edition.  2011.  Saddle River, NJ.


  1. This is a wonderful example of Rococo artwork. This sensual image would have definitely appealed to an intimate aristocratic audience. I also think it is very interesting to look at artwork created by female artists. I enjoyed reading your post!

    Hannah Bennett-Swanson

  2. I actually was reading a book about female artists this past week, and there was a chapter dedicated to Carriera. As an artist who specialized in portraits, Carriera had a lot of people pose for her. This is my favorite quote by Carriera: “I have so long been accustomed to studying features, and the expression of the mind by them, that I know people’s tempers through their faces" (Jane Fortune, "Invisible Women: Forgotten Artists of Florence," p. 164). She sounds like an individual who was a very keen observer of people and the world around her.

    -Prof. Bowen

  3. "A Young Lady with a Parrot" is a great example of a Rococo painting. It has a feel of sensuality in the way the parrot on the woman's shoulder is pulling at the clothing that is covering the woman's breasts. The line caused by the pearls also bring your eye to her bared chest area, which seems like it was the intent of Carriera when she made this painting. I really enjoyed your post!

  4. Hey Sarah,
    I always find it interesting to think of a piece of art work and imagine what it would be like if it was created in a different time period. For this piece i would imagine it to be WAYYY over the top in comparision if it was created in the baroque period, and probably much more alluring.