Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, ‘Design for a frontispiece: Allegorical figures of Constancy, Philosophy and Truth, with a winged genius’, Christie's Old Masters

Although the present drawing was apparently never engraved, it was probably designed as an allegorical frontispiece for one of the literary projects on which Piazzetta worked, with his publisher friend Giovanni Battista Albrizzi (1698-1777), between 1734 and 1754. These illustrations formed a key part of Piazzetta's artistic output at this time and have always been highly valued by collectors of his work, with the result that most are now in museum collections: two albums in the Biblioteca Reale, Turin, containing a total of 201 sheets; 46 drawings in the Hermitage; and 194 at the Pierpont Morgan Library in the Kress Album. In scale and spirit the present sheet is closest to a number of designs for the ten-volume publication of Oeuvres de Messire Jacques Bénigne Bossuet (1736-1758), seven of which are in the Biblioteca Reale in Turin (D. Maxwell-White and A.C. Sewter, I disegni di G.B. Piazzetta nella Biblioteca Reale di Torino, Rome, 1969, pp. 31-33, nos. 6-12). It is therefore likely that the drawing dates from circa 1736.

Whereas Piazzetta's figure drawings are almost invariably in black chalk, his designs for book illustrations tend to be in red chalk, a medium which lent itself to the making of counterproofs, enabling the artist to view the composition in reverse or to rework sections. The present sheet is a fine example of the original drawings from this series, which can always be distinguished from the counterproofs by the fine, densely-hatched right-handed shading and the presence of light underdrawing in pencil.

P. Huart [?] (L. 2084).

Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, New York, 10 January 1995, lot 21.

About Giovanni Battista Piazzetta

Giovanni Battista Piazzetta was a Venetian artist who excelled in painting and illustration. Unlike his contemporaries, Piazzetta preferred to use somber and monochromatic palettes, inspired by the Italian Baroque and later the French Rococo. He received many commissions for religious works; since he was a notoriously slow painter, he had to produce a large number of drawings to support himself. He would gain considerable renown for his drawn, half-length portraits of Venetians and complex landscapes. Piazzetta was one of the first artists to elevate the practice of drawing—then considered merely an auxiliary tool—to an art form equal to that of painting in importance and quality.

Italian, 1682-1754, Venice, Italy, based in Venice, Italy

Group Shows

Christie's Old Masters, 
New York,

Fair History on Artsy

Ursus Books & Prints at IFPDA Print Fair 2014