Lady with a String of Pearls
75.1 cm x 61.3 cm (29 9/16 in. x 24 1/8 in.)
(Cremona, Italy, 1671 - 1749, Bologna, Italy)
Medium and Support:
Oil on canvas
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, The Suida-Manning Collection, 2017
Donato Creti’s style represents the most self-conscious and rarefied classicism in late Baroque painting. Trained in the Bolognese academy, he reacted against its increasingly stale and unfelt formulae by attempting to return to its first principles, or at least early manifestation, in the art of Guido Reni. The result of this deliberate archaism is an extreme refinement of form and color, a complete suppression of affect, and an unearthly beauty. In character and appearance, Creti’s works recall Mannerism created in the region of Emilia and equally anticipate the true Neoclassicism of several generations later.
Cleopatra is a perfect demonstration of this ideal style. The attitude could scarcely be more contrived, the drawing more elegant, the palette more artificial, and the psychology more remote. Intellectual appeal overwhelms plausibility and empathy. Light, space, and sentiment—reasoned and shaped but still accessible in the period’s conventional classicism—here become near abstractions. Creti would often create replicas of individual motifs from larger compositions. This figure corresponds to one that appears in the painting Achilles Dipped in the Styx (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna). Here, however, the motif is more logical and better resolved, suggesting that it preceded the larger composition. Patrons, it seems, requested not just replication but incorporation of favorite motifs, which Creti’s conceptual and systematic style could readily accommodate.