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Anton Maria Zanetti the Elder (1680-1767)

Seven standing figures c.1730

Pen and ink | 34.7 x 49.2 cm | RCIN 907407

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A drawing of a group of seven men standing on a squared pavement, three on the left wearing capes, one in the centre holding up a book; on the far right is a figure with his back turned.

In the Royal Library is an album from the collection of Joseph Smith containing 220 caricatures, mainly by Smith’s contemporaries Anton Maria Zanetti and Marco Ricci. Zanetti was a minor Venetian nobleman who had trained as an artist (for a time under Sebastiano Ricci), though he never practised professionally as a painter, limiting his activity to drawing and printmaking and forming a fine collection of works on paper.

Zanetti mixed in the same artistic circles as Smith and shared his taste for caricatures of contemporary Venetians, especially figures from the stage. Three large groups of such caricatures survive: the Royal Collection volume, from Smith’s collection; an even larger album in the Fondazione Cini, Venice, from Zanetti’s own collection; and a smaller, fragmentary series, almost all of singers, in collection of Albert R. Gellman in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, from the collection of their friend Francesco Algarotti. Frequently a caricature is repeated in each of the three series. The subjects of the Cini and Jerusalem drawings are often named in inscriptions, allowing the uninscribed Windsor versions to be identified; thus a tall man in carnival costume, in the act of drawing on a sheet of paper, is identified in the Cini version as a self-portrait of Zanetti ‘making a caricature of his beloved Germana Tesi’ (i.e. the singer Vittoria Tesi Tramontini).

It seems that the Marco Ricci drawings among the Collection's set are original creations, and that the Cini and Jerusalem replicas of these are tracings, variously by a member or members of Ricci’s studio and by Zanetti. There are some original works by Zanetti himself, drawn in the style of Marco Ricci but not based on his drawings, and Zanetti also produced duplicates of his own creations. The regular, uninflected line here is typical of a tracing, but the disparities of scale between the figures cannot entirely be accounted for by comic exaggeration, and the squared pavement in perspective is not able to bring them into a convincing spatial relationship with one another. It is thus possible that Zanetti compiled the drawing by tracing a number of figures from different sources, though none of the seven men is to be found elsewhere, singly or in any other combination. They are unusual among the Ricci/Zanetti caricatures in the absence of overt comic intent, and indeed the two men to the left can hardly be called caricatures at all. They were identified by Enrico Lucchese in 2015 as Giuseppe Zanetti, the artist's brother, and Piero Balbi known as Franzifava, a nobleman involved with the Teatro San Moisè.

Text adapted from Holbein to Hockney: Drawings from the Royal Collection