THE PIOUS SNAIL OF VENICE: Giovanni Battista Piazetta

The Pious Snail of Venice

GIOVANNI BATTISTA PIAZZETTA (1682 – 1754) was the premier painter of religious imagery in settecento Venice. While his contemporaries Tiepolo and Ricci worked through the colorist and painterly legacies of local legends Veronese and Tintoretto, Piazzetta, who trained in Bologna under Crespi, grounded his art on the naturalism, sober palette and lighting effects of the Carracci and Caravaggio. Those stylistic choices of the Roman and Bolognese artists responded to a call, in the wake of the Council of Trent, for the reform of religious art. Aware of the origins of the style he now had mastered, Piazzetta specialized in monumental canvas altarpieces upon his return to Venice, many of which remain in the churches for which they were created. The Ecstasy of St Francis is, arguably, the greatest religious painting of the 18th century. Piazzetta also produced highly affective devotional images for ecclesiastic patrons as well.

Compared to the prodigious output of Tiepolo or Canaletto, Piazzetta’s painted œuvre is relatively small, which is partly due to the extremely slow pace at which he worked (“He is a snail,” said one Swedish visitor to Venice). He produced, however, a large corpus of highly-finished, presentation drawings, mainly genre scenes and naturalistic images of Venetians character types and carnival figures, which were much prized by collectors visiting Venice, and further popularized through engravings. Following his appointment as director of the newly-founded Scuola di Nudo in 1750, Piazzetta stopped painting and devoted himself to teaching until his death 4 years later.

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