Self Portrait Holding a Portrait of Her Sister

Check out the mad skills of painter Rosalba Carriera in Self Portrait Holding a Portrait of Her Sister:

  • Carriera’s fame and success in 18th century Italy.
  • Sisters with intimate, interdependent lives.
  • A pastel spotlight in the secret Medici Tunnel.
  • Answers to Frequently Asked Questions like, “What’s the story behind the women in Self Portrait Holding a Portrait of Her Sister?”

Rosalba Carriera’s Self Portrait Holding a Portrait of Her Sister fascinates me. In fact, this masterpiece highlights what makes self portraits special. These paintings reveal how artists see themselves. On some level, every painting is a peek into its painter’s point of view. It’s their gift to us – a new way of seeing.


When they portray themselves, painters convey a few levels of perspective. There’s what they see in the mirror. On the surface, this is how they see themselves. Of course, one can’t presume utter candor in all cases. So, on another level, artists show what they want us to see about them with a self portrait. However, the painter also has in mind what they want viewers to think is how they see themselves.


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But Carriera’s frank depiction here sets a stunning example of honest reflection. It’s charming. The cleft chin of the artist and her sister’s pock mark point to the reality of their looks. She emphasizes their noticeable imperfection. Both women were what was oft-called spinsters in their day. In fact, Rosalba’s sister, Giovanna, worked as her housekeeper. They supported each other in both the literal and symbolic sense. Self Portrait Holding a Portrait of Her Sister points out, warts and all, their unconventional stature.

They may not be beautiful in the traditional way. Or valuable in the classic societal sense as mothers and wives. But they wield unfathomable female power. After all, this painting still holds viewers riveted three hundred years later. Without any context or philosophical pretense, this is a lovely and gentle painting. Carriera’s skills are clear in her fine and accurate brushwork.


She could have made herself a supermodel stunner. It would have been Instagram-filter-easy for her. But she’s more focused on reality and balance than beauty for its own sake. This self portrait shows us earned grace – the kind that lies inside us. Rosalba and her sister aren’t physical beauties. Yet they’re lovely and charming here. We sense their close connection and shared kindness.


That’s thanks to Carriera’s deft composition across the canvas. She gives herself and Giovanna matching half smiles and head tilts. Faces framed in delicate lace, the sisters glow with a convivial air. Their eyes twinkle. Rosalba grants herself a flower atop her head. Her sister wears a golden earring. It’s all balanced inside a swirling oval. Viewers sense that egg shape thanks to Carriera’s bent arm. She lifts a paintbrush to her sister’s sweet face. The movement guides the eye to what seems like an ethereal locket around them.



Rosalba Carriera & Her Sidekick Sis

Self Portrait Holding a Portrait of Her Sister was a commission for the famous and infamous Medicis. In fact, it still lives in their wondrous Uffizi tunnel gallery. This family collection holds a special space above the city of Florence, Italy. The incredible overhead Vasari Corridor’s filled with exquisite self portraits. Back in the mid 1500s, the Medici built it as a secret passageway between home and work.

When they asked Rosalba Carriera to paint a self portrait in the early 1700s, it was for this gallery. The Medicis’ artwork spans centuries. But the works within have that one bit in common, they’re all self portraits. It’s the main reason I was ultra excited to see this tunnel for myself. Self portraits tend to make me look deeper into a painting – hoping to glimpse insights into the artist.

This one by Rosalba Carriera stood out among them and held my attention. Self Portrait Holding a Portrait of Her Sister remains different in its delicacy and refined elegance. Perhaps because it’s one of very few by a woman artist. Even better, it’s got two women subjects. The artist and her sidekick sister establish a genteel tableau. The tunnel’s shadowy at many turns with low lighting and many dark paintings. So, this bright portrait glistens like a piece of jewelry among them.

The duo’s restrained half smiles hint at a shared secret. A deeper look at them rings a recognition bell – teamwork. The Carreira sisters both look right at us. Together they face viewers with straight on, shared bemusement. Their direct gaze seems to dare us. Go ahead judge us as frumpy old maids. Take a good long look. Their unvarnished faces seem to say. We live here, in this elite gallery of fine art masterpieces. Beauty fades. Husbands die. But this painting of us spinsters persists. This is how Carreira commands the moment between artist and viewer. She’s got us in her grip with her trusty sidekick Giovanna.


Self Portrait Holding a Portrait of Her Sister – FAQs


How can I see Self Portrait Holding a Portrait of Her Sister in person?

This masterpiece lives in the Corridoio Vasariano. It’s a private road bridge above Florence, Italy. Visiting this gallery requires special tour tickets. So, either plan ahead or spend a bit extra on the same day. It’s selective because the tunnel policy allows only a small group to visit at a time. Also, keep in mind that tours begin at the Uffizi Museum in the heart of Florence. But they don’t circle back. Your visit concludes far away from where it began. The tour ends at the Pitti Palace gardens across the river. Make sure you account for that when planning a visit.


What makes Rosalba Carreira an important painter?


Carreira’s painting Self Portrait Holding a Portrait of Her Sister works as a symbol of her status. It was a high honor to paint for the Medici family. In fact, she was already a famous painter when commissioned to do this. As a single woman in 18th century Italy, her career indicates tremendous accomplishment. Rosalba Carreira painted portraits of prominent people all over Europe. Her influence continues to show in the work of many masters including Elisabeth Louise VigĂ©e-LeBrun.


What painting technique did Rosalba Carreira use?


As evident in the soft delight of Self Portrait Holding a Portrait of Her Sister, Carreira loved pastels. She’s most known for playing a primo part in the Rococo style movement. Rosalba’s gentle technique became popular thanks to her unique hues. Before Carreira pastel colors were only for casual use. That means sketches and pre-painting. But Rosalba used them in her finished works to give them softer tones. It’s her work’s most distinctive trait – this technique. In fact, her innovation with pastels helped Carreira gain acceptance and esteem among Italy’s art establishment.


What’s the story behind the women in Self Portrait Holding a Portrait of Her Sister?


There’s always more to a relationship than what we can see in a single painting. For instance, these sisters had a complex and close connection. They weren’t just siblings. Giovanna also wasn’t only a companion and housekeeper to Rosalba. She played a critical role in her sister’s success. In her later years, the master painter suffered sight loss and other physical deteriorations. So, she relied even more on Giovanna for help as time passed. Their relationship remained interdependent – almost like a marriage. Rosalba earned substantial money and fame. But she likely couldn’t have done it without her sister.


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