The quality and technique of this unsigned miniature resonates strongly with the work of the miniaturist Giambattista Gigola (1767-1841). Residing in Rome from 1790 to 1796, Gigola came to work in Paris between 1802 and 1803, furthering his studies and knowledge of portrait miniature painting. Back in Milan, he became the most celebrated miniaturist in Italy and was appointed as official painter to Eugène de Beauharnais, Viceroy of Italy. Both the draughtsmanship and iconography in the present work are strikingly comparable to Gigola's idiosyncratic style. The delightfully unruly tendrils of the sitter’s hair, for example, are a typical feature of his work.

In capturing the traditional Italian painterly style, the present artist has succeeded in emulating the contemporary fashions in French portraiture. The sitter’s high-waisted white gown refers to a classical, and specifically Greek inspiration, which allows us to date this image to around 1800. She sports a cashmere shawl, an accessory which epitomises the Consulate period and...

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The quality and technique of this unsigned miniature resonates strongly with the work of the miniaturist Giambattista Gigola (1767-1841). Residing in Rome from 1790 to 1796, Gigola came to work in Paris between 1802 and 1803, furthering his studies and knowledge of portrait miniature painting. Back in Milan, he became the most celebrated miniaturist in Italy and was appointed as official painter to Eugène de Beauharnais, Viceroy of Italy. Both the draughtsmanship and iconography in the present work are strikingly comparable to Gigola's idiosyncratic style. The delightfully unruly tendrils of the sitter’s hair, for example, are a typical feature of his work.

In capturing the traditional Italian painterly style, the present artist has succeeded in emulating the contemporary fashions in French portraiture. The sitter’s high-waisted white gown refers to a classical, and specifically Greek inspiration, which allows us to date this image to around 1800. She sports a cashmere shawl, an accessory which epitomises the Consulate period and which was popular among fashionable women of the aristocracy. Indeed François Gérard's portrait of Madame de Récamier is a testament to this particular fashion, which would spread from Paris, the fashion capital of Europe, to the rest of the continent over the course of the century.[1] By contrast to the portraits of women of the high Napoleonic nobility, here the subject is a peasant girl, plucked from a more modest daily life.

The adoption of a pointillé technique signifies the present artist’s awareness of the developments in French art of the period. These fine, delicate strokes, which express an understanding of the works of miniaturist Jean-Baptiste Isabey, give the work an appearance of extraordinary precision and detail.

The sitter’s right hand, in particular, is drawn with confidence. A southern Italian landscape, realised in looser brushwork with wash colour, is suggested in the background.

The wicker basket with a protruding grape leaf balanced on the sitter’s head recalls the work of Caravaggio.[2] In the early 19th century, Caravaggio's still-life Fruit Basket (c. 1599) was already considered a masterpiece and could be seen at the Ambrosian Library in Milan, where it hangs today. It likely served as a source of inspiration to the present artist.

[1] François Gérard; Juliette Récamier, Musée Carnavalet, Paris.

[2] Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio; Basket of Fruit, Ambrosian Library, Milan.

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500 Years of British Art