Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of the Goddess Flora 1720c.

Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini 

Portrait of the Goddess Flora, Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini
Oil on canvas
18th Century
20.5 x 17.5 inches 52.1 x 44.5 cm 20 1/2 x 17 1/2 inches, 50 x 44.5 cm
Possibly the Duke of Buckingham’s sale, Christies London 30th November 1839.
We are grateful to Professor George Knox for confirming the attribution to Pellegrini.

Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini was one of the leading Italian artists of the late seventeenth and earl eighteenth centuries. His works can be found in the finest museums across the world, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, to the Louvre, Paris. Pellegrini trained under Sebastiano Ricci in Venice, and there married Rosalba Carriera’s sister. His work is widely seen as a precursor to the flamboyant ‘Grand Manner’ of Tiepolo, arguably the greatest European painter of the eighteenth century. According to Pellegrini’s contemporary, the eminent art historian George Vertue, the artist was, “a talle proper man of a great deal of fire and vivacity.” [1]

Pellegrini’s legacy is perhaps strongest in England, where he was invited by the Duke of Manchester (when British ambassador in Venice) in 1708. He was rapidly patronized by the aristocracy, and by 1711 had become a founding Director of Kneller’s Academy of painting. Vertue attests that “his Easel pictures are by far the best & according to most impartial Judgesin a better and more masterly Stile than any painter now living nor any we have had for historical subjects in this nation for many years.”[2]

With his Venetian style Pellegrini brought with him the artistic essence of what was then the most civilised city-state in the world. With his fluent and colourful decorative canvasses the artist was able to breathe new life into the occasional stiffness and sobriety of English portraiture, which by the beginning of the eighteenth century was perhaps in danger of relying too heavily on its Northern European heritage. In essence, Pellegrini’s lightness of touch, unashamed use of strong pigments, and plain accessibility brought a taste of the Mediterranean to British art, which, along with Ricci, and later Amigoni, led the way for the more expressive portraits of such artists as Highmore and Dandridge, and ultimately the ‘conversation piece’.
In this painting, which Professor Knox believes represents a hitherto unseen subject, Pellegrini has combined his gaiety and lightness of touch with an exercise in mild erotica. This bare-breasted maiden, no doubt intended as a representation of the goddess Flora, is typical of what Vertue called “a very noble & fruitfull invention…” [3] It is possible that the present picture may be associated with “the girl, with flowers; well-coloured” attributed to Pellegrini at the Duke of Buckingham’s sale in 1839 which sold to a “Chittleburgh” for £1.9.

1 – George Vertue, Note Books, Volume 1, p38-39, Walpole Society 1930, London
2 – ibid
3 – ibid
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