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Anton Maria Zanetti the Elder (1680-1767)

A self-portrait in carnival costume, sketching c. 1740

Pen and ink | 28.5 x 20.4 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 907419

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A self-caricature of Antonio Maria Zanetti, standing as he sketches on a loose sheet of paper. He wears a tricorn hat, a bauta mask, and a long cloak.

Among the many thousands of volumes purchased in 1762 by George III with the collection of Joseph Smith, British Consul in Venice, was an album containing some two hundred caricatures of contemporary Venetian society – the local aristocracy, milordi on the Grand Tour and, most numerously, actors and opera singers. The majority of these were drawn by Marco Ricci (1676–1729/30) and Anton Maria Zanetti the Elder; the final caricature in the album – effectively a tailpiece – was this self-portrait of Zanetti in carnival costume, in the act of drawing a woman in a full-length gown. The identification as a self-caricature is confirmed by a second version of the drawing in a parallel album of caricatures (Fondazione Cini, Venice), which bears a contemporary inscription ‘Antonio M.a Zanetti in Maschera, che fà la caricatura della sua cara Sig. Germana Tesi’ (‘Anton Maria Zanetti in a mask, making a caricature of his beloved Sig. Germana Tesi [i.e. the singer Vittoria Tesi Tramontini, whose caricature is mounted alongside in the Cini album]’). This is not a realistic depiction of the artist at work – the sheet of paper on which he is drawing is unsupported and his proportions and dress are intentionally comic – but it captures the essence of his art, the sophistication and frivolity of Venetian social life and the interaction between the two.

Text adapted from Portrait of the Artist, London, 2016