Cantrice, Castrati, Amici e Altre Bestie – Part I*

When I went searching for the catalogue Dr Goldfarb had mentioned of the works of Antonio Maria Zanetti it never crossed my mind that there would have been a copy in the North Suburban Library System in Morton Grove, Illinois.  But there it was – a catalogue from an Italian exhibition in 1969 in the familiar (now yellowing) plastic library cover, with the Dewey Decimal numbers handwritten and attached to the spine.  It even had the original price sticker on the inside back cover:  L3,000.

db8fb-zanetti-catalogue-cover
I found this obscure catalogue through the good graces of Dr Hilliard Goldfarb and the fine people at AbeBooks.  It once graced the shelves of the North Suburban Library System in North Grove, Illinois.

How did it get there?    What or who had brought this little hard covered treasure (from my point of view) from the Fondazione Giorgio Cini on Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore to the NSLS on Dempster St in Morton Grove?  Had one of the librarians been in Venice at the time of the exhibition?  Had some benefactor in the area who had travelled donated it?  Had it been given as a lot of books when someone’s home was being cleared of a lifetime of accumulation?  There is no library card envelope on the inside back cover.  I find that a bit odd and it would suggest it never went into circulation.  It would have been fun to know how many times it had been taken off the shelf and checked out – if ever.   The stamp on the frontispiece showed that it had been withdrawn from circulation; it then found its way to a bookseller in Evanston and the AbeBooks website; and finally to my bookshelf.

dbdbd-anton_maria_zanetti
An engraving of A. M. Zanetti il Vecchio by A. Faldoni after a miniature by R. Carriera.

However it got there, its here now and I’ve been thumbing through it with great delight.  Not all of the 350 caricatures catalogued are illustrated but enough to catch my fancy and share with you – along with anything I can find about Zanetti, his work and his subjects.

First a little bit about Zanetti, some caricatures he did of family and friends and a few pokes he took at himself.

Born into a Venetian family of standing in 1679, Antonio Maria Zanetti (il Vecchio – the Older) was a renowned artist and art critic of the period.  A talented engraver and collector – his wise investments in maritime insurance gave him the wherewithal to follow his true vocation – he was adviser on collecting to the royal and noble families of France, England and Lichtenstein.  Aristocrats on The Grand Tour sought him out and through him met many of the major artistic figures of the Most Serene Republic.  Zanetti himself did a type of reverse Grand Tour and visited France and England – in London his purchases included three volumes of the etchings of Rembrandt.

7ff8e-tintoretto-and-zanetti
Tintoretto’s The Vision of St Peter is one of the ten paintings he did for his parish church of Madonna dell`Orto, it was completed in 1556 along with its companion piece The Decapitation of St Paul.
Over two hundred years later Zanetti created the engraving based on Tintoretto’s work.

He had been trained as a painter by Sebastiano Ricci but limited his activities to drawing and engraving.  Through  his association with the Ricci family – including Sebatiano’s nephew Marco –  he became a member of a large artistic circle that included some of the finest painters, miniaturists, writers and musicians of La Serenissima.   Amongst his proteges were Rosalba Carriera, a highly regarded miniaturist and pastel painter of the period, and his nephew Anton Maria il giovane.   The Zanettis’ Delle Antiche Statue Greche E Romane § was one of the first illustrated catalogues of the period and detailed all the Greek and Roman sculptures in Venetian public collections.

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Giove from Delle Antiche Statue Greche e Romane
by Zanetti and his nephew. It was the first catalogue
of its kind and listed important works in the Venetian
public collection.§§

As an engraver Zanetti perfected the  Chiaroscuro woodcut, producing prints after paintings by many of the great artists of Venice:  Parmigianino, Tintoretto, Castiglione and others.  His prints were popular as souvenirs of that obligatory visit to Venice for the wealthy aristocrat and the starving artist alike.

Zanetti was an avid collector of engraved gems (cameos, intaglio, seals, rings) and greatly enjoyed showing his collection to his many visitors.  He had catalogued his gems and, being Zanetti, captured them in detail with his burin.  The engravings were published in 1750 as Le gemme antiche.  Aemmae Antique – Dactylotheca §§§ with a Latin text by his friend Antonio Francesco Gori translated in to “vulgar Italian” by his nephew Girolamo.   Many visitors thought it was meant as an elaborate sales brochure but Zanetti refused all offers for anything from his beloved collection until the Duke of Marlborough convinced him to part with four gems and paid 1200 zecchini (gold coins) for them.  At a recent auction a copy of the Zanetti/Gori catalogue sold for over $30,000 USD.

If his engravings,  prints, collections, knowledge and erudition made him a known name during his lifetime what little we know of him today, outside of art history circles, are his caricatures of his friends, family and the great entertainers of his day.   As with all good caricatures these pen and ink drawings – dashed off quickly if one of Zanetti’s self-portraits is to be believed – capture the essence of people he was (mostly) gently having fun with.  There are three large collections of these “minor” works that that have survived:  Zanetti’s own collection from the Fondazione Cini, the Consul Smith collection in the Queen’s Royal Collection and the Algarotti collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario. British Consul Joseph Smith and Francesco Algarotti were members of Zanetti’s artistic circle.  Zanetti had left his massive collection to the Republic, King George III purchased Smith’s drawings in 1762 and I have not been able to find out anything about the fragmentary series in Toronto.

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The caption tells us that the masked figure is Zanetti “who is making a caricature of his dear Signora Germana Tesi.” Vittoria Tesi Tramontini was the most famous female contralto of her age and is shown as she appeared as Diana in Endimione at S. Giovanni Grisostomo during the 1742 season. She was a favourite subject of the caricaturist.

Often the three collections have overlapping images though those in the Cini and AGO collections have inscriptions/descriptions which the Royal collection lack.  It would appear that Zanetti or one of his studio traced over existing caricatures to make copies – perhaps for distribution to friends or the subjects themselves.

Until his death in 1767 at the age of 88 he remained active and according to friends still “displaying his full intellect”.   Zanetti had no children and his vast collection went to his nephews and was soon thereafter dispersed.   By the late 1700s it was already noted with bitterness by an Abbott Lena that much of the marvelous collection had passed over the Alps and across the sea.

Family, Friends and those Around Him

Here are a few of the many quick portraits Zanetti did of the people in his circle or just people he saw in his travels around Venice and Europe.

73db3-la-famillia-zanetti
The Zanetti family all set for a night “in maschera”. The two tall figures have been identified as Zanetti himself and his niece Maria.  The others are labelled Zanetta, Alessandri, and Nicola – but the writing is not in Zanetti’s hand.
d3149-sebastiano-ricci
According to Zanetti’s note his friend and teacher Sebastian Ricci is looking pensive because he is losing money on the season at the Teatro San Cassiano. Oddly there is no mention in any biography of Ricci being involved with the theatre but the financial troubles of an impresario would well account for his less than happy mien
91393-rosabela
Even though it is noted that she is an “amica dell’Autore it’s hard to imagine that Rosalba Carriera, the famous portrait painter, was greatly pleased with this caricature.
ead0b-camierre-con-tasso
This “cameriere” of Zanetti’s is enjoying his coffee – possibly in
one of the bars in the Piazza? Plus ça change!
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La Principesssa Pia was the wife of the Hapsburg Ambassador to Venice. He served first for Charles VI and then for Maria Therese as Queen of Hungary. According to Girolamo Zanetti he had to resign his position in April of 1743 as he did not have the funds to sustain the lifestyle expected of an Ambassador.
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Zanetti also captured the Mother of Princepessa Pia – noses of distinction seem to run in the family.
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On a visit to San Artemio di Treviso in the Veneto Zanneti sketched Maria, the cook at the Ca’ Marchi. And in it he has captured the spirit of every nonna or donna who has ever cooked in Italy!
d0c48-marco-ricci-11-3
Zanetti notes that when he did this sketch his friend Marco Ricci was “i dolori” in pain and indeed the painter looks unwell. There’s a good possibility that this was drawn shortly before his death in 1730.
a313b-zanetti-self
If his self-caricatures are to be believed Zanetti was a tall, extremely thing man – in one of his later drawings he appears almost skeletal.

Over the next few weeks I’m working on posting more of these delightful (to me at least) drawings with some history and anecdotes of the people being sketched, particularly the singers and dancers that Zanetti saw in the many opera houses in Venice.

*Singers, Castrati, Friends and other Beasts

§ I was surprised – and thrilled – to find a complete copy of this remarkable catalogue in PDF format on the University of Heidelberg Library website.
§§ The photo used is from the University copy.

§§§This beautiful catalogue of jewellery and cameos is online in PDF also.

February 8 – 1855: The Devil’s Footprints mysteriously appear in southern Devon.

Author: Willym

A senior with the heart of a young'un

1 thought on “Cantrice, Castrati, Amici e Altre Bestie – Part I*”

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