Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of a Shepherd and his lover in a wooded landscape 

 Italian School 

Portrait miniature of a Shepherd and his lover in a wooded landscape,  Italian School
Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval 3 inches (76mm) high
Private Collection since the mid-eighteenth century
The present painting, depicting two lovers embracing in a pastoral idyll, was probably originally conceived for the inner lid of a snuff box. This traditional decoration for snuff boxes was instrumental in the introduction of ivory to England as a support for portrait miniature painting. Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757), the renowned pastellist, began her career in Venice decorating boxes but later developed the use of this support (or ‘fondelli’ – ‘foundation’) for small portraits. Her new technique eschewed the traditional vellum support that had been used by artists since the sixteenth century. As her innovation became known throughout Europe, artists began to adopt this new material as their base, although early attempts are usually painted on a thickly cut panel, as seen in the present work.

Although it has not been possible to identify the artist of this work, it clearly relates to the portrait miniatures of Carriera, in technique, composition and subject type. The composition and pose of the female relate closely to her portrait miniature of Venus and Cupid , dated to 1715 [Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth House]. The Danish miniaturist Cornelius Høyer (1741-1804) has also been suggested as the artist, but the early dating and subject would make him an unlikely candidate.

The subject is typically Rococo and recalls similar scenes by oil painters of this date, including the works of Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). The pastoral setting is somewhat theatrical and looks towards the work of François Boucher (1703-70), who like so many artists of this period drew on the theme of shepherds and shepherdesses as lovers (see for example drawing , British Museum, PD 1895-9-15-955).

The tantalising nature of the scene, with the young shepherd seduced by partially disrobed lady offers a scene of unbridled sensuality, with the viewer almost a voyeur stumbling across the scene in the woods. This type of erotic subject can be found in other box lids of the period, which kept the scene hidden for private contemplation.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.