Giovanna Garzonni is considered to be one of the greatest Italian miniaturists of the seventeenth century. Born in 1600 in Ascoli Piceno, Garzonni's talent was first noticed when she apprenticed with a pharmacist in her home town. Her parents, Giacomo Garzoni and Isabetta Gaia both came from families of artisans but were not artists themselves. They could provide no training for their daughter, as was typical for many women artists of the period. Instead, Garzoni received her training from Giacomo Rogni, as explained in a letter written by the artist in 1620. In 1622, Giovanna married the Venecian artist Tibero Tinelli, but the marriage only lasted for two years, due in large part to her vow of chastity.
When the artist was thirty, she moved from Venice to Naples with her brother, and painted numerous miniatures for her patron, the Spanish Duke of Alcalà . In letters she professes to being unhappy in Naples, preferring to work and die in Rome. When the Duke of Alcalà returned to Spain, Garzoni used the opportunity to accept the invitation of the Duke of Savoy to move to Turin. She worked in Turin for five years but the commencement of the War of the Two Ladies forced her to leave. During the 1640s, the artist moved to Florence and became the official miniaturist to the Medici Court, painting numerous still-lifes for the Grand Duke Ferdinando II de Medici. By 1654, the artist settled in Rome where she renewed her activity with the Accademia di San Luca, an association of artists founded in 1593. Although it was not customary to admit women to the organization, records show that she enjoyed many of the same benefits as male members (including cakes brought to her when she was ill) and had the honor of being buried in their church, Santi Luca e Martina.
While Garzoni earned fame during her lifetime for her miniatures, only a few examples of those survive. It is her carefully rendered watercolor still-lifes that have earned the artist enduring recognition. These paintings display a thoughtful synthesis of scientific botanical studies and conventional still-lifes. The use of watercolor and gouache instead of oil adds a sense of delicacy and immediacy to the paintings. Also, the inclusion of insects and well-placed shadows serve to further enliven the compositions. Although her artwork was critiqued by her contemporaries for its subject matter (portraits and still-lifes were viewed as lower forms of art in comparison to figure painting and historical themes), Garzoni's paintings were hugely popular amongst her clients. The biographer Lione Pascoli, in his Vite
(1730-1736), stated that she could receive any price for her art that she asked.
Although little was written about the artist during her lifetime (she is briefly mentioned in Carlo Ridolfi's Meraviglie delle'Arte
in 1648), she kept excellent records which have been preserved by the Accademia di San Luca. These records make it possible to reconstruct certain elements of her life. Garzoni's fame and skill endowed the artist with a large degree of autonomy. She had the option of working with various patrons throughout Italy and records suggest she also traveled to London and Paris. When Garzoni died in February of 1670, she left all of her possessions and a sum of money to the Accademia di San Luca on the condition that they build a monument to her in their church, which was completed twenty-nine years after her death.
niece of Pietro Gaia
student of Giacomo Rogni
friend of Lorenzo Cerrini
influenced by Jacopo Ligozzi
influenced by Guilio Clovio
influenced by Fede Galizia
influenced by Panfilo Nuvolone
teacher of Ippolito Galantini
teacher of Octavianus Jannella
Elected Member, Accademia di San Luca, Rome, Italy (ca. 1633)
Painting Commission, (St. Andrew), Ospedale degli Incurabili, Venice, Italy (ca. 1620)