Saint John the Baptist
47.1 cm x 40.5 cm (18 9/16 in. x 15 15/16 in.)
Giovanni Battista Piazzetta
(Venice, Italy, 1682 - 1754, Venice, Italy)
Medium and Support:
Black and white chalks on gray-green paper laid down on blue antique laid paper
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, The Suida-Manning Collection, 2017
Along with Sebastiano Ricci, Giovanni Battista Piazzetta was responsible for revitalizing Venetian painting and inaugurating its second great age. Schooled in Bologna, Piazzetta learned a naturalism based upon systematic drawing, featuring intense chiaroscuro, and dedicated to dramatic expression. Reconciling this conception with the flickering light and personalized brushwork of his native tradition, while rejecting its bright palette and decorativeness, Piazzetta brought new life to the school’s tired formulae. Unlike many compatriots, he would rarely pursue monumental decoration and never work outside Venice. He did, however, bring to religious and genre subjects a force of visual sensation and human characterization equal to that of the early Baroque.
This is a preparatory study for a painting of Saint John the Baptist at Rovigo. Drawn from a model, it demonstrates Piazzetta’s foundation in academic practice but inclination toward more selective description, varied touch, and sincere feeling. Indeed, this figure is especially present and powerful even for Piazzetta. It reveals at how early a stage the artist determined the eventual pose, chiaroscuro, and expression of the painting. Not least, this drawing predicts Piazzetta’s life-size chalk “heads of characters,” which would become the most celebrated and reproduced drawings in eighteenth-century Venice.
The museum possesses two other drawings and two fine paintings by Piazzetta as well as numerous prints by his best interpreters.