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Giovanni Battista Piazzetta (1682-1754)

A boy with a dog circa 1740

Black and white chalk on blue paper faded to brown | 38.7 x 30.2 cm | RCIN 990777

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A black and white chalk drawing on blue paper faded to brown, showing a boy holding a small dog on his left shoulder.

Giovanni Battista Piazzetta produced a great number of these chalk drawings on blue paper of character heads, with one, two and sometimes three heads on the same sheet. His biographers (Albrizzi, Studij di pittura and Dezalier d'Argenville) noted that it was through the sale of these drawings that he was able to sustain his family, and he built up a strong reputation for them. The drawings were always intended to be framed and hung, the consequent exposure to daylight causing the paper to fade from blue to brown.

Although  the models in some of these drawings have been identified (Piazzetta's wife, son and daughter appear several times), they are not intended as portraits of particular sitters. Instead they are often shown with accompanying attributes, in this case a small dog, or with particular facial expressions, operating in the tradition of têtes d'expression. Often the meaning of the attributes is not overt, but the drawings are enigmatic ruminations on age, beauty, innocence and other timeless themes.

Piazzetta also repeated figures across his drawings. A drawing in the National Gallery of Art, Washington shows the same boy in a striped costume, holding a lute (1979.40.1). A painting by Piazzetta's pupil Domenico Maggiotto in Trieste shows the same boy with a dog, and Andrew Robison has suggested therefore that this drawing is also by Maggiotto (Poetry of Light exh cat., 2015, p. 168). However, all thirty-six of the Piazzetta heads in the Royal Collection, which were hanging at Buckingham Palace until the early twentieth century, must have been acquired as part of the collection of Consul Joseph Smith in 1762. Many of the Piazzetta heads in Smith's collection were engraved by Cattini in 1754 as the Icones ad vivum expressae. The drawings were also copied assiduously by George III's daughters.