Rosalba Carrieraca. 1730

National Museum of Women in the Arts

National Museum of Women in the Arts

Venetian-born Rosalba Carriera popularized pastel as a medium for serious artwork rather than mere sketches. Pastel—pure, powdered pigment bound into sticks—lends itself to soft-edged forms with remarkably clear detail. Carriera’s skill with the medium is particularly evident in the naturalistic flesh tones and glinting jeweled headband in this image of “America.”

In the 18th century, Europe recognized four continents: Africa, Asia, Europe, and America. Illustrated title pages of European atlases published at the time often personified the continents. Artists represented each one as a woman identified through details of costume (e.g., a turban for “exotic” Africa) or attribute (“civilized” Europe often holds a scepter).

“America” is clearly part of such a set. The figure’s headband, feather hair ornament, and quiver of arrows reflect anecdotes and lore about the continent.

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  • Title: America
  • Creator: Rosalba Carriera
  • Date: ca. 1730
  • artist profile: One of the most successful women artists of any era, the Venetian-born Rosalba Carriera spent most of her life fulfilling commissions for distinguished patrons at courts across 18th-century Europe. The daughter of a clerk and a lace maker, Carriera began her career painting miniatures—mostly portraits and allegorical subjects. Such works quickly established her reputation within the Italian artistic establishment and gained her acceptance into Rome’s Accademia di San Luca in 1704. Carriera is best known for her innovative approach to pastels, which had previously been used for informal drawings and preparatory sketches. She is credited with popularizing their use as a medium for serious portraiture. In 1720, Carriera spent a triumphant year in Paris, visiting art collections, meeting French artists, and creating portraits of prominent individuals, including the young Louis XV. She later worked in Modena and Austria, assisted by her sister Giovanna. Her greatest patron, Augustus III of Poland, sat for her in 1713 and amassed more than 150 of her pastels. Carriera’s last two decades were marred by the emotional and physical traumas of her sister Giovanna’s death in 1738 and the loss of her own sight eight years later, but her work continued to influence artists, such as French portraitists Adélaïde Labille-Guiard and Elisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun.
  • Style: Rococo
  • Physical Dimensions: w13 x h16.5 in (Without frame)
  • Type: Pastel
  • Rights: Purchased with funds donated by Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Photography by Lee Stalsworth
  • External Link: National Museum of Women in the Arts
  • Medium: Pastel on paper mounted on canvas
  • National Museum of Women in the Arts’ Exhibition: “Trove: The Collection in Depth,” 2011


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