The life and career of Giulia Lama remained largely obscured until the twentieth century, when scholars such as Pallucchini and Ruggeri restored her as a talented force in the development of Venetian painting during the first half of the eighteenth century. Born in Venice in 1681 as the eldest of four children, she remained close to her family her whole life, never marrying and largely living a life of seclusion. She was lauded for her intelligence, and her skills as a poet were stylistically linked in style to Petrarch.1 Economically independent, she supported herself financially through her creative talents, including her fine lacework and paintings, which ranged from large and dramatic altarpieces, to mythological scenes, to sensitively executed portraits, including her own captivating self-portrait that shines a light on her graceful personality and an unassuming air (fig. 1). While it was long assumed that she was a student of Giovanni Battista Piazzetta (1683-1754), the two were in fact close friends who clearly exchanged ideas and a visual vocabulary. Lama regularly served as a model for some of his most arresting portraits and studies, including his portrait of her as an allegory of painting at the age of about 35 (fig. 2),2 and it is through such works that modern audiences are granted a further glimpse into the engaging, intellectual spirit of this elusive personality.
Unlike the Rococo style of her contemporary, Rosalba Carriera, Giulia Lama executed large, energetic, and naturalistic compositions, often turning to subjects and techniques considered unconventional for women at the time. She competed so well with her male counterparts that many of her works have been mistakenly attributed to a number of their hands, including her Christ Crowned with Thorns recorded in the Monte Rua Hermitage in Padua, formerly considered a work of a young Tiepolo.3 Additionally, many of her works from earlier in her career, including the present pair, were once given to Piazzetta.4
Lama had an advanced understanding of how to dramatically render physiognomy in her works, particularly in the way she used athletic figures as visual anchors, often twisted in sinuous and dynamic poses. Over 200 drawings by Lama reveal her as one of the first female artists to have regularly studied nude male and female models from life, and the preparatory drawing she made for Joseph Interpreting the Eunuchs' Dreams (fig. 3) serves as an illustrative example of this practice, for clearly the eunuch seated at center arose from a live model. The central figure and the man at the far right of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar consoling Job also appear to have been arose from life, for they relate closely to two of Lama's small drawings as well.5
The present pair of canvases—which share a simple setting, restrained color palette, and a dramatic diagonal arrangement with each other as well as with Lama’s Judith and Holofernes in the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice6—illustrate two lesser-known stories from the Old Testament. In Joseph Interpreting the Eunuchs' Dreams, the young gifted prophet, who appears here in the lower right corner wrapped in a thick coat of blue and red fabric and looking emphatically upwards towards his eunuch inmates. Pharaoh's butler is at center listening intently as Joseph interprets their dreams, while Pharaoh's baker appears nearby with his arms crossed and a downcast expression, as the prophet would foretell the former’s advancement in rank and the latter’s imminent death. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar consoling Job depicts an episode where a sinless yet suffering Job, seen at the center of the composition cowering in pain, is at first consoled by his three friends and subsequently falsely accused by them. They claimed that such punishment from God must be the result of his sinful behavior, when in fact it was a test. Once Job was through the ordeal, God blessed him with twice as much as he had before.
1. See Ruggeri 1973, in Literature, p. 9, note 8.
2. This work is titled Giulia Lama as ‘Painting,’ oil on canvas, 69.5 by 55.5 cm., circa 1715-1720, Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid, inv. no. 1966.11. See G. Knox, Giambattista Piazzetta, Oxford 1992, reproduced on the cover and plate V.
3. See Ruggeri 1973, op. cit., p. 20, reproduced p. 17, fig. 12.
4. See R. Pallucchini 1970, in Literature, p. 164, in which he describes seeing this pair of paintings on the art market in Bologna around 1952 as Piazzetta.
5. See Ruggeri 1973, op. cit., reproduced plates 89 and 101.
6. See ibid., p. 13, reproduced fig. 6.
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