A Young Lady with a Parrot
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If I was alive during the eighteenth century, I definitely would have tried to be friends with Rosalba Carriera.

Not only was she an internationally-renowned artist in a time where women were all but barred from the fine arts, but her Rococo was even more raunchy than the men who followed in her footsteps. Sure, the Italian Renaissance featured some hot bods and chiseled abs, but these were all men. Venus made the occasional appearance, but the Renaissance mainly focused on the Virgin Mary, who was always fully clothed. Have some respect! 

And women painting images of other women exploring their sexuality? Forget about it! That is, until Rosalba Carriera started to dominate the scene. Carriera is best-known for her pastel portraits and allegories. A Young Lady with a Parrot is especially unique because it combines these two genres. During the eighteenth century, women artists were relegated to painting portraits and genre scenes. These categories of paintings were considered less important than history painting and, therefore, suitable for women. Apparently, Carriera never got the message about what was necessary and proper for women, because this painting screams, “I am woman. Hear me roar!”

Carriera’s young lady stares directly at us more than a century before Olympia was even a twinkle in Manet’s eye. She gives us a “come hither” look as a parrot assists in almost revealing what’s underneath her dress. With this gentle foray into a lady’s potential to seduce, Carriera helped put the Rococo genre into motion in both Italy and France. I would venture to say that Carriera captures female guile and seduction better than many of the male Rococo painters did. After all, the best Fragonard could do was show us a woman flinging off her shoe. Ha!

Carriera felt empowered to push the limits of “acceptable” portraiture because artworks were increasingly being commissioned for private spaces – the new homes of the ultra-rich – and could be as secretly, or not-so-secretly, sexy as both artists and patrons wanted them to be. The details get juicier. Although scholars aren’t totally sure, the subject might be one of the daughters of Christian Cole, the first duke of Manchester and the English ambassador in Venice. He commissioned quite a few works by Carriera after she made a name for herself in Italy.

Thanks to Carriera, allegorical paintings and portraits no longer had to be bland. Instead, they could be interesting, fun, and even sexy. Carriera’s erotic take on the subject helped others take the genre in a more playful direction, especially in France where Rococo reached its pinnacle. For a perfect example of the height of French Rococo, look no further than the fanciful and erotic portrait of Louis XV’s favorite mistress as the goddess Venus. It’s decadent, pastel, overflowing with jewels, and full of cherubs. Everything Rococo should be. 




  1. Art Institute Chicago. “A Young Lady with a Parrot.” Artworks. Accessed January 21, 2019.
  2. Davies, Penelope J.E., Frima Fox Hofrichter, Joseph Jacobs, Ann M. Roberts, and David L. Simon. Janson’s Basic History of Western Art. 8th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc., 2009.
  3. J. Paul Getty Trust. “Rosalba Carriera.” Artists. Collections. The J. Paul Getty Museum. Accessed January 21, 2019.
  4. McCullagh, Suzanne Folds. “A Lasting Monument: The Regenstein Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago.” In Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies. 26, 1 (2000). Accessed January 21, 2019.
  5. Myers, Nicole. “Women Artists in Nineteenth-Century France.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. September 2008. Accessed January 21, 2019.