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Giovanna Garzoni: Story of the Venetian Still Life Master

Giovanna Garzoni

Chinese Vase with Flowers, a Fig, and a Bean And Portrait of Giovanna Garzoni by Carlo Maratti | Source: Web Gallery of Art And Via Wikimedia Commons

It is worthy of mention that several female gems have successfully portrayed themselves as artists, musicians, writers and historians during their era. What makes us explore them is finding a way to see the society and traditions of earlier periods through the eyes of the females, which obviously most of us want. Among all of them, it is my true exhilaration to dig even hidden names and artworks of woman artists and witness the mellifluous compositions along with displaying the true feminine spirit, which most of the ladies out there lost in today’s world. So cheers to them for this exclusive cover of the history page we neglected for many years. Without a minute of waste in the blink, let us start the article. My previous posts on Gentileschi and Sirani noted that they achieved indistinguishable fame due to their choice of canvas for religious and historical subjects. However, we know that many contemporaries observed that few women artists established major commissions and paintings for the still lifes. I have already written an article on the famous still life of the time, of course, you can refer to it for knowing and understanding well about the term still life and the artists. Now, as I mentioned about the contemporaries’ observations on the peak of still lifes, I must tell you that these were especially very popular in several parts of Western Europe beginning in the late sixteenth century. For instance, in Holland, the demand for still life was so huge that the artists made a great living by producing and working with sub-genres like breakfast pieces, flower pictures, and many others. Furthermore, you must know that the most exemplary and notable works of this category were from the artists of Italy, Germany and France. In the Baroque period, some great artists painted still lifes, and a vast proportion included women. It was because it demanded a keen eye and powerful observation rather than exposure to academic education. One among them, quite famous for her work, is Giovanna Garzoni, for which we are here today. 

Giovanna painted religious pictures and still lives, but her meticulous studies of plants and animals with execution in watercolour were so good that we still remember her through it. Let us read through her life and famous artworks. 

Artist Abstract: Who Was Giovanna Garzoni?

Giovanna Garzoni was a Baroque artist who produced religious, mythological and allegorical paintings in her early days, but she is known for her specialisation in still life. There is not much information on her early training, but it is possible that she began her apprenticeship under Pietro Gaia, her maternal uncle, who was a painter and engraver in her home town of Ascoli Piceno. Mostly, she is known for the 1620 church commission of a series of Apostles painted for the church of the Ospedale degli Incurabili in Venice, which she contributed to St. Andrew. Garzoni pursued her artistic career with intensity and enjoyed constant success with a life of steady work.

Biography of the Painter Giovanna Garzoni.

There is much less known about the early life of the artist. Through her painting Holy Family (private collection), signed IONA DE GARZONIBUS FA ANO SUE ETATIS XVI 16161, let us infer her date of birth. Born to Isabetta Gaia, Venetian origin and Giacomo, her grandfathers and uncle Vicenzo were goldsmiths, but her maternal uncle, Pietro Gaia, was an artist from the school of Palma the Younger.

Self Portrait, Giovanna Garzoni | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Giovanna Garzoni was connected with Venice, marking the beginning of her career. She painted Saint Andrew (Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice) for the church of the Ospedale degli Incurabili. It was an early composition than Holy Family and to the artistic style of Palma the Younger. She learnt calligraphy from the school of Giacomo Rogni in Venice and produced the Libro de’ caratteri cancellereschi corsivi (Book of cursive chancery characters; Biblioteca Sarti, Accademia di San Luca, Rome). During the same period of her residence in Venice, she also signed and dated a miniature of tempera, Portrait of a Gentleman, in 1625. Leading to her personal life, she married a Venetian painter, Tiberio Tinelli, at the end of 1622. But due to her vows of chastity, her marriage didn’t last much and dissolved in 1624. After the differences with her family, she went to Naples with her brother Mattio in 1630. Throughout her life, she travelled to Rome, Naples, and Paris, and worked with powerful patrons like the Duke of Savoy, Pope Urban VIII, and many others. In 1632, after a year spent in Naples, she was persuaded by Cristina of France, Dutchess of Svoy to move to Turin, where she encountered the Netherlandish and Italian paintings like a portrait of Vittorio Amedeo and Duke of Savoy. One of the foremost things in her art style was naturalism with such perfection and meticulous attention to the detail of northern school. 

The movements of Giovanna Garzoni to places were unknown, but we know that in August 1642, she was in Rome with her brother. And from there, she subsequently moved to Florence between 1646 and 1651, where she worked for the Medici court, Grand Duke Ferdinando II, Grand Duchess Vittoria, and Cardinal Giovan Carlo. For the Medici family, she made copies of the works of Raphael and other Italian masters, portraits, animals, still life and human figures. In 1651, she settled in Rome but kept in touch with the Florentine courts, as evidenced by the twenty miniatures with plates of fruit carried out for Ferdinando II. During her stay in Rome, she took meetings at the Academia di San Luca. But at this same period, her health began to deteriorate, so she drafted a will to be buried in the Church of Santa Martina after her death. 

Portrait of Carlo Emanuele I, Duke of Savoy by Giovanna Garzoni | Source: Web Gallery of Art

Now, let me show you her exquisite gallery of Giovanna Garzoni’s artworks.

Looking at the Artworks Drawn by Garzoni.

The illustration, Plate of Figs, c 1661-62, showcases the medium body colour on the vellum on the board. She shows a version of figs, which at first sight will look emotionless and frozen within the rarified atmosphere, but is vibrant to the light because of the masterful use of stripping. There is a shining interlocking of coloured geometries in these parchments which can trick anyone’s eye. Further, the painting also expresses the passage of time. With a position on a chipped and well-used plate, this swollen fruit with withered leaves is somewhat on the verge of spitting. 

Plate of Figs by Giovanna Garzoni | Source: Arader Galleries

In her artwork, Hycinth with Four Cherries, a Lizard and an Artichoke, Giovanna Garzoni showcased scientific observations with decorativeness. She portrays that Hyacinthus orientalis, native to Mesopotamia, was already grown in Italy by 1590. She showcased the lizard in an unnatural position, displaying the probability of a scientific specimen. 

Hycinth with Four Cherries, a Lizard and an artichoke by Giovanna Garzoni | Source: Web Gallery of Art

The Still Life with a Basket of Fruit, A Vase with Carnations, and the Shell on a Table are the best known among the twenty still life miniatures, Giovanna Garzoni created for the Medici family. It showcases the refine and elegant interpretation of natural objects. Through the meticulous showcasing of the fruit in various stages of ripeness, carnations botanically complete with stem, leaves and unopened buds, she showed as if the objects are directly taken from life.

Still life with a basket of fruit, a vase with carnations and shells all resting on a table by Giovanna Garzoni | Source: Artnet

In the Plate of White Beans by Garzoni, there is a simple depiction of ripe bean pods with detailed damaged leaves and irregularly coloured rim of a shallow bowl, where they are placed. Unlike her other works, she displays her technique of delicately stripping the ground plane, giving a grainy texture.

Plate of White beans by Giovanna Garzoni | Source: Web Gallery of Art

In the Portrait of a Gentleman (dated 1625), Giovanna showed a delicate stippled technique combined with carefully handled gradations of colour, resulting in an extremely refined and luminous surface. As the artist’s early interest was in decorative design and naturalistic motifs, which we know from her book of calligraphic studies, this portrait combined the used techniques of fine pointillist techniques, subtle colouration and flowing lines. 

In 1576, Jacopo Ligozzi worked in Florence for Francesco I de Medici, and his natural science illustrations were significant models for Giovanna. Several of Garzoni’s later still lifes and botanical drawings, like Still Life with Birds and Fruit, were mistakenly attributed to Ligozzi before Mina Gregori corrected the error. Ligozzi’s elegant and precise tempera drawings exhibited a refinement and formal clarity evident in Garzoni’s later still life and botanical drawings. With the possible exception of a herbal containing 49 highly naturalistic botanical illustrations, Garzoni’s works do not strictly fall into the category of scientific illustrations, despite her early affinity for naturalism and close observation. One of Garzoni’s four botanical studies dating back to the end of the 1640s, Hyacinth Plant with Four Cherries, a Lizard, and an Artichoke, illustrates his unique ability to combine observation with an acute sense of the decorative and aesthetic, combining naturalistic observation with a strong sense of the decorative and aesthetic. With its flower, stem, bulb, and roots, the plant is drawn botanically accurately, but the combination of the four subjects on the page is purely aesthetic. The two aren’t naturally related; they are a study of shapes and textures. The fly on the artichoke stem resembles Dutch still lives, and the lizard’s legs are unnaturally positioned, suggesting the drawing is not based on life, but on a dead specimen.

The painting, Dish with an Open Pomegranate, a Grasshopper, a Snail and Two Chestnuts (Gallerisa Palatina), shows an interest of Giovanna to depict the variety of the natural world in the most precise ways. This little picture vibrates with living energy as the grainy texture is carried through the background, the grasshopper is unnaturally large, and the colour within the crayon outline is subtly modulated; despite microscopical attention to detail, the effect is charming and poetic, a fantasy still life. Garzoni’s use of the convex mirror, a standard artist’s aid at the time, may have contributed to the awkward perspective of the picture, which adds to its abstract quality.

Dish with an Open Pomegranate, a Grasshopper, a Snail and Two Chestnuts (Gallerisa Palatina) by Giovanna Garzoni | Source: Biblioklept

A few other paintings from the gallery, which belonged to Giovanna Garzoni, include Vase with Flowers, a Peach and a Butterfly, Branch of Dittany with Four Hazelnuts and two pears, etc.

Vase with Flowers, a Peach and a Butterfly by Giovanna Garzoni | Source: Web Gallery of Art
Branch of Dittany with Four Hazelnuts and Two Pears by Giovanna Garzoni | Source: Web Gallery of Art

Final Words.

Giovanna Garzoni was a master artist who showed botanical shreds of evidence well from her paintings. After she died and was buried in the same place as her will, the church commission made her statue, which was completed after thirty years. Surely, she was a beautiful artist, innocent with her artworks and an inspiration to count.


1. Giovanna Garzoni Miniatora Mediciea by Sylvia Meloni.

2. Insigne miniatrice by Gerardo Casale.

3. Women Artists, 1550-1950 by Harris Sutherland Ann and Nochlin Linda.

Frequently Asked Questions.

Who was Giovanna Garzoni?

Giovanna Garzoni was a Venetian Baroque painter who worked with several courts, churches and influential families including the Medici family. She became immensely popular for her religious subjects, portraiture, and her still-life paintings.

What type of art did Giovanna Garzoni make?

Giovanna Garzoni drew several types of art but the most common ones were still-life art.

Why did Giovanna Garzoni leave her husband?

Giovanna Garzoni married Tiberio Tinelli, a Venetian painter in 1622. However, the marriage dissolved in 1624 due to Tinelli’s unacceptance of Garzoni’s chastity vows.

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