Edited by Luca Giunta Baroni

Few artists mastered, like Piazzetta, the gift of building up a multitude of figures with a few fast strokes of pencil. Much admired for his great studies of heads, he also had a long and fruitful collaboration with the lively world of Venetian publishers.

Over the course of his career, he provided them with many preparatory drawings for illustrations and decorations, such as the ones for John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1745), Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata (1745) and various literary and scientific works.

The sheet here presented is preparatory for one of the titles of the sumptuous illustrated volume of Jacques Benigne Bossuet’s Oeuvres. During the Enlightenment era, the clear doctrine of Bossuet (1627-1704), a French bishop and thinker, was considered as a valid antidote to the new rationalist and utilitarian currents. In the mid-1730s, the growing popularity of Bossuet’s writings among the Catholic world prompted the respected Venetian printer Giovanni Battista Albrizzi (1698-1777) to publish the first complete edition of his works.

To embellish the monumental work, divided into ten volumes and published over the course of over twenty years (1736-1757), Albrizzi commissioned from his friend Piazzetta a rich series of illustrations, headings and initials, many of which are today preserved in the Royal Library in Turin. These drawings, mainly executed in red chalk, constituted the final model supplied to the team of engravers who worked for Albrizzi. Our sketch, on the contrary, belongs to Piazzetta’s first creative stage, where he studied the relationships between the figures and used, as was his custom, the more versatile black chalk.

Oeuvres de Bossuet, I V (Albrizzi, Venezia 1738), p. 113
Fig. 1. Oeuvres de Bossuet, I V (Albrizzi, Venezia 1738), p. 113

The drawing shows a group of figures attempting to decipher an inscription on an ancient stone and refers to the title illustration of the chapter Avertissement aux Protestants, inserted in the fourth volume of Bossuet’s work published in 1738 (fig. 1). The scene, of a rural and bucolic character, refers to the diffusion of Watteau's work in Venice at the end of the 1720s and contrasts with the seriousness of the arguments in Bossuet's volume. As Mario Richter observed in 1983, ‘unity and peace, in Piazzetta's figurative transposition, find implementation in the recovery of a form of natural simplicity that obviously still carries with it situations and themes dear to the Arcadian vision of the world’.

The naturalness of the image allowed its reuse in a plurality of contexts. After the first appearance in Bossuet's text (1738), Piazzetta’s creation reappeared in Giandomenico Bartoli’s Antichità di Aquileia (1739, p. 417) and in Giovanni Cattini’s Poesie varie nel solenne sposalizio... Pisani-Sagredo (1741), testifying to the versatility and adaptability of the pleasant image depicted by Piazzetta.

1 On Piazzetta’s relation with publishers see Venezia 1983, esp. the essays by George Knox (pp. 54-57, 70-77), Sergio Perosa (p. 66), Carlo Ossola (pp. 67-69), Loris Premuda (p. 78), Lino Moretti (pp. 79-82) and the one, quoted below, by Mario Richter.

2 Richter 1983, pp. 63-65.

3I disegni 1969, p. 42, no. 51 and pl. 51.

4 See, e.g., the drawings in the Cini Foundation reproduced in Venezia 1955, entry 79 (as Pietro Longhi) and 71; Venezia 1963, nos. 56, 54 and Paris 1971-1972, no 41, and the sketch in Washington, NGA, Julius S. Held Collection, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund |1984.3.22.

5 Richter 1983, p. 64.

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