Sunday, 5 March 2017

Pietro Testa’s etching, “An Allegory of Painting”, 1637–38


Pietro Testa (1611–50)
“An Allegory of Painting”, 1637–38
Etching on laid paper trimmed to the image borderline with old restorations, especially to the upper left corner where a loss has been redrawn in ink.
Size: (sheet) 26 x 32.7 cm
Cropper 37; Bartsch 29 (see also TIB, 45 Commentary, p. 157); Bellini 5

The British Museum offers the following description of this print (note: the impression that the BM holds is not the original print but rather a copy after the original):
“Allegory of painting, who as an [sic] child in the centre left draws on a tablet and gazes upon nature in the centre.” (http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=1634465&partId=1&searchText=testa&page=2)

Condition: well-inked and crisp impression trimmed to the image borderline. The sheet is in a poor condition (i.e. significant losses, abrasions, stains and age-toning) with old restorations.

I am selling this exceptionally rare print—so rare that the British Museum only has a copy of it—for AU$337 (currently US$255.80/EUR241.22/GBP208.27 at the time of this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world.
If you are interested in purchasing this major print by Testra, please contact me (oz_jim@printsandprinciples.com) and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

This print has been sold


From a personal standpoint, this etching is a visual crystallisation of Testa’s life in terms of what he valued and his attitude to death. What I mean by this bold assertion is that this etching celebrates the key principles that he valued and his acceptance that his work would live on despite setting himself on the dreadful trajectory of committing suicide.

Regarding Testa’s principles, he believed that the foundation to a good art education was the study of nature. Indeed, to quote from Elizabeth Cropper's (1984) “The Ideal of Painting: Pietro Testa’s Düsseldorf Notebook”, Princeton, “Testa castigates those poor teachers who tear their pupils away from the nourishing breast of Nature, feeding them instead such weak gruel that they fly into the arms of Ignorance” (p. 248; cited in Cropper [1988] “Pietro Testa”, p. 71).

Testa signifies his belief in the importance of studying nature by portraying the infants towards the centre of the composition drawing on tablets in the “proper” way. To the left of them Testa depicts a reclining figure in the act of painting with another artist behind him surveying the painter’s progress. This small interaction may be viewed as Testa’s second stage in an ideal student’s development: adding colour to drawing. Seated beside the painter is another artist who is drawing architectural elements. This component in an artist’s development is also important as Cropper (1988) points out: “Testa argues that the perfect painter must also master the principles of architecture" (p. 71).

I could keep working my way around each group of figures as each adds another dimension to Testa’s notions of ideal art practice, but the element that really catches my attention, and best summaries Testa attitude to art is shown at the lower-right corner of the composition: a man lying in a way that suggests his arms are bound behind him and beside him is a winged hourglass and a scythe. This figure is a constrained Father Time who is not able to hold his symbolic attributes. Of course, the significance of portraying time Father Time in this way—an ineffectual force that can no longer cut folk down and limit their stay in the world of the living— is that philosophically art can never die even if the artist may pass away. For me, the symbolism of this figure foreshadows Testa’s acceptance of his approaching death by suicide and the fact that we can still admire his artwork today.  






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