Giovanna Garzoni

Giovanna Garzoni, 1600-1670, was a successful and talented Italian Baroque painter who traveled around Europe and worked for the Medici family for a decade.  She was best known for both her miniature portraits and her botanical paintings.

Chinese Porcelain Plate with Cherries, Giovanna Garzoni, c- 1651-62

Garzoni was born in Ascoli Piceno (in the Marche region) in 1600 to Venetian parents. While she was still young the family moved to Rome where she was raised.  Garzoni was the daughter of painter Nunzio Garzoni, who worked as a miniaturist and also the niece of painter Pietro Gaia. It is thought she studied painting under them.  As a young woman she moved to Venice with her brother where she studied calligraphy and received several important painting commissions for religious altarpieces.

Not much is known about her early life, she may have been married while young and a short time later had the marriage annulled.  She traveled and worked in several major Italian cities such as Naples, Venice, Florence and Rome.

After her time in Venice Garzoni briefly moved to Naples and while there worked for the Viceroy, which attracted the attention of the Duchess of Savoy, Christine Marie of France (shown below).

Christine Marie of France, Duchess of Savoy, wife of Vittorio Amedeo I,
Giovanna Garzoni, 1635, miniature painting, Uffizi Gallery, Florence,

 Among Garzoni's best known works were her miniature portraits, done while she was working for Victor Amadeus I, the Duke of Savoy.  The Duchess of Savoy, Christine Marie of France (1606–1663), (pictured) was one of the daughters of Henry IV of France and Marie de' Medici.   Following her husbands death, Duchess Christine Marie served as regent of the Duchy from 1637 to 1663.

Portrait of Victor Amadeus I, Duke of Savoy (1587-1637), Giovanna Garzoni, 1635,
miniature portrait, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

As the Duchess was part of the Medici family, Giovanna was introduced to them through her, they were impressed by her skill as a painter and she traveled back an forth between the Medici courts in Rome and Florence working from them.  During this time Garzoni mainly painted botanical subject matter for which she is now best known.

Still Life with a Bowl of Citrons, Giovanna Garzoni, late 1640's, tempera on vellum, Getty Museum

The Medici Court in Florence had a tradition of commissioning botanical paintings. In addition to Garzoni Florentine painters Jacopo Ligozzi (1541-1587) and Bartolomeo Bimbi (1648-1729) also painted hundreds of botanical and still-life paintings for the family. In the 16th and 17th century the Medici were quite interested in plants and the natural world, and their love of botanical paintings stemmed from that.

While Garzoni may have been influenced by the paintings of Ligozzi during her time in Florence, she had been commissioned to paint a herbarium in Rome as a teenager and therefore had previous experience painting botanicals.

Figs, Bartolomeo Bimbi, 1696, oil on canvas (116 x 155 cm) Villa Medicea (Poggio a Caiano)

Based on his work and subject matter and the fact that he would have been exposed to her work, it appears that Bartolomeo Bimbi was influenced by the work of Garzoni.  Compare their two versions of paintings of figs.

Figs, Giovanna Garzoni, 1650's, watercolor on parchment,
Palatine Gallery, Pitti Palace, Florence, 9.65 " x 13.5 " (245 x 345 mm)

Giovanna Garzoni's very detailed, carefully rendered and exquisitely painted botanical works were praised and sought after.  She spent at least a decade working on these at the Medici courts.  During this time she painted a wide variety of plants, fruit and vegetables, birds and insects.

China Bowl with Figs, a Bird, and Cherries, Giovanna Garzoni, 1650's, watercolor on parchment, 
Palatine Gallery, Pitti Palace, Florence, 10.2" x 14.9" (260 x 380 mm)

Giovanna Garzoni was one of the most successful women painters in the 17th century. Her patrons included several Dukes of Savoy (Turin), the Medici Family (Florence and Rome) and the Colonna family (Rome).  The 17th century artist, art historian and author Carlo Ridolfi included her in his "Le Maraviglie dell'Arte" which was his comprehensive volume on artists and their are, and her botanical paintings continue to influence artists centuries after her lifetime. 

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