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The patient master

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The typical 18th-century Venetian painter was a virtuoso who never hesitated. Not so Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, a slow, patient, steady worker - and one of the masters.

Rather than being flights of fancy, his pictures contain depth of expression and understanding of structure. Color had a meaning for him quite different from the way other artists felt about it. He preferred the strong effects that can be developed by the use of chiaroscuro, the subtle contrasts between darks and lights.

Piazzetta was continually retouching. His severe self-criticism drastically slowed his production of paintings. At times he had to sell drawings to live. Some of these were preparations for pictures, others were of casually encountered people and incidents. The demand for them was enormous, for he was recognized to be greatly skilled in design. Their destiny? To be framed and hung on the walls of rich homes and museums throughout the world.

How it happened that major artists arose on the social quicksand of Venice of the 1700s will forever remain a mystery. For nearly a thousand years, Venice had been a very powerful sovereign maritime republic. Now its star waned. Capitulation loomed. Yet the charm of its beauty and its aristocratic traditions created an ambiance of pleasure and luxurious elegance then typical of all Europe. In art and culture there was new energy, and Venice emerged at the head of the Italian movement.

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