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Giuseppe Macpherson (1726-c. 1780)

Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757) c.1772-80

Watercolour on ivory | 6.4 x 5.0 cm (sight) (sight) | RCIN 421236

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  • Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757) was one of the most celebrated women artists of her day. She trained in Venice and was made a member of the Academia di S Luca in Rome in 1705. She travelled to Paris in 1720-1 with her sister Angela and brother-in-law Antonio Pellegrini, staying with the collector Pierre Crozat, and to Vienna in 1730. As a portrait painter working mainly in pastels, visitors to Venice on the 'Grand Tour' provided her main source of business. Her innovative use of ivory as a base for miniatures may have developed from the Italian tradition of ivory snuff box decoration. Carriera never visited England but George III acquired a number of her pastels for the Royal Collection. She became blind in 1749.

    This miniature is one of the collection of copies of 224 self-portraits by artists in the Uffizi Palace, Florence, that Lord Cowper, the art collector and patron, commissioned from Giuseppe Macpherson (1726-80). He presented the miniatures to King George III in two batches, in 1773 and 1786. Macpherson followed the original self-portraits quite closely, but copied only the head and shoulders. He inscribed the artists' names on the backs of the miniatures – several differ from those in the modern Uffizi catalogue, notably: Bazzi, Bellini, Campi, Annibale Carracci, Gabbiani, Masaccio, Metsys, Moroni, Pencz, Licinio, Schiavone and Spada. None of the miniatures is signed, apart from Macpherson's own self-portrait, which is inscribed: Giuseppe Macpherson / Autore della serie (Giuseppe Macpherson / Author of the series). Macpherson was born in Florence, the son of Donald Macpherson, a footman in the service of Alexander, 2nd duke of Gordon. He was a pupil of Pompeo Batoni and painted miniatures and enamel portraits in Italy, France and Germany, finally settling in Florence. A James Macpherson is recorded in London and Paris in 1754 but it is not certain that this is the same person. He was described in 1776 as having a special talent for painting on enamel and as being 'almost the only painter in Europe who possesses this art to perfection'. He had a distinguished client list which included some of the crowned heads and dignitaries of Europe. In 1778, he was invited to add his own self-portrait to the famous painters in the grand duke's collection as it 'would do honour to Florence to enrich the collection with a work which shows that we still have some men of true merit', according to Giuseppe Pelli, director of the Uffizi.


    Presented to George III by Lord Cowper

  • Medium and techniques

    Watercolour on ivory


    6.4 x 5.0 cm (sight) (sight)