Oil on canvas.
47 x 37 cms. (18 ½ x 14 ½ in.)
Giambattista Pittoni is considered, alongside Tiepolo and Piazzetta, as the most representative history painter of the Venetian Rococo. The details of his early career are scarce other than that he studied painting under his uncle Francesco Pittoni and later possibly with Antonio Balestra, joining the Venetian painters guild in 1716. A decade later he was appointed honorary Academician of the Accademia Clementina in Bologna and he went on to become a founding member of the Venetian Academy, the Accademia di Belle Arti, succeeding Tiepolo as its President in 1758. Pittoni worked almost entirely from Venice with short forays to Verona, but he received significant commissions from German, Russian and Polish collectors including Marshal Schulenburg, who owned nine paintings by Pittoni and consulted him on restoration matters and before buying works by other artists; Frederich Augustus, Elector of Saxony and later King of Poland was one of his first patrons, displaying several works by the artist in his palace as early as 1722. The discernable influence of the French School, in both his drawings and his paintings, is thought to have been the result of a stay in Paris during 1720 in the company of Rosalba Carriera and Zanetti. Pittoni’s work divides almost equally between secular and religious paintings, the latter comprising around thirty large-scale altarpieces and considerable numbers of smaller devotional pictures. Celebrated in his lifetime for his handsome draperies Pittoni was also an exceptional colourist and though his reputation waned in the 19th century, his influence had a lasting effect in Central Europe where his style was imported through the work of Anton Kern, his most dedicated pupil.
Like Piazzetta, Pittoni executed a small number of devotional easel paintings of this type at different times in his career. The present work, which was first recognised as the work of Pittoni by Annalisa Scarpa, has the luminosity and solidity of his early period and may be compared with two versions of a St. Jerome, one in the Museo Civico in Rimini and the other formerly in the Cecconi Collection, Florence, both dating to the early 1720s1. The intensity of colours seen here is also a feature of his early work, with the particular combination of sky blue and ochre yellow creating an almost electric effect. Other features of the 1720s are the dry impasto and the structure of the drapery formed of long stripes; an identical technique is seen in another painting of St. Peter, half-length and almost twice the size, now in the Kunstalle in Hamburg.2 In the Rimini St. Jerome we see the right hand in exactly the same position as here except that he holds a stone and a crucifix rather than the key to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Pittoni already seems to be at the height of his powers here; his use of paint is extraordinarily confident as is the powerful rendering of light. Despite the humility expressed in the pose of the saint, who inclines his head to hide his eyes, there is a strength and radiance in the depiction which expresses St. Peter’s position as the keyholder to Heaven.
1. Franca Zava Boccazzi, Pittoni, Venice 1979, pp.182 and 155, cats. 249 and 164, figs. 37 and 38.
2. See op. cit., 1979, p.111, cat.2, fig.125.