A Young Girl with a Spindle

Giovanni Battista Piazzetta

Italian, 1682-1754

SN 183, oil on canvas, 1735-40

Piazzetta was a Venetian painter whose body of work was mainly religious, but who may be known best for his highly successful genre paintings. He also did portraits.

His father probably introduced him to sculpture techniques at an early age, & altho’ he learned elementary painting from Silvestro Maniago, his study with Antonio Molinari Tenebrist was more important. Piazzetta’s work is deeply naturalistic, intense, and dependent on chiaroscuro. (This is in contrast to his Venetian contemporaries.) In Bologna he observed Caracci and Guercino to imitate dramatic lighting.

By 1711 he was a member of the Venetian guild. After some difficulty getting started (in a world dominated by the brilliantly successful Sebastiano Ricci), by the 1720s he established himself as one of the most successful history painters in Venice.

By the end of the decade his fame was international.

In the 1740s, he painted the genre scenes that are his most celebrated works. Inspired by Crespi, his models were peasants and common people caught in moments of relaxation. During this same period he had many ecclesiastical commissions, for which he increasingly used the collaboration of his many pupils. He also collaborated with the publisher Giambattista Albrizzi; more than 60 volumes were illustrated by engravings based on Piazzetta’s drawings. These helped the spread of his reputation throughout Europe.

Piazzetta had married Rosa Muziolo in 1724, and they had seven children. He was described during his lifetime as a man of average height with a pleasant, intelligent face. Courteous and cultured, perhaps a trifle melancholy due to his love of solitude, he cared little for honors & devoted himself to the art he loved.

A young girl looks at us over her right shoulder, as she draws a thread from the spindle with which she is working. Inspired by prints of Watteau where men and women enjoy pleasures of peace and joys of life, or Crespi’s genre painting of ordinary relaxation and under current of eroticism.

This type of painting is known as a “character head.” Such works were widely imitated by Piazzetta’s pupils, and it has been suggested that this work could be by his follower Domenico Maggiotto.
Diagonal composition – the moment of greatest dramatic tension, suspended gestures and frozen action.

The artist has caught a lively moment when the subject is at work and glances back, surprised and curious, to see who has come into the room. He used a narrow range of color. The plain background shows nothing to divert our attention from the sitter. Piazzetta may have studied the effects of light with the aid of mirrors, and the camera obscura, as Crespi is said to have done. He rejected decorative effects and spontaneous improvisations. In any case, he never worked rapidly; rather, he preferred a slow, measured approach. Because of this leisurely pace, he produced a relatively modest number of works.

Piazzetta loved to paint men and women peacefully enjoying their work or recreation in a world richly conveyed in his most celebrated genre paintings.