Garzoni showed immense artistic talent at a young age but was largely kept from creating large-scale religious or mythological paintings, as patrons at the time tended to commission such works from men. As a result, Garzoni turned to miniatures, scientific illustration, and still-life painting, which had only really emerged as a distinct genre in the late sixteenth century.
Over the course of her career, Garzoni spent time in Florence, Naples, Paris, Rome, Turin, and Venice, creating works for the Church and notable political and aristocratic patrons such as the Duke of Alcalá, the Duke of Savoy, and the Medicis.
Pages from a Herbarium by Giovanna Garzoni, c.1630–1632. Dumbarton Oaks Museum, Washington, D.C.
Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, Still-Life with flowers, 1617. Hallwyl Museum, Stockholm
Balthasar van der Ast, Fruit Still Life with Shells and Tulip, 1620. Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands
Many of Garzoni's early commissions were for scientific illustrations, underscoring the growing interest in botany and scientific documentation and exploration during this time. Her early work shows the stylistic influence of Dutch Golden Age painters such as Ambrosius Bosschaert (1573–1621) and Balthasar van der Ast (1593–1657). In contrast with the dark grounds on which those artists tended to represent their subjects, Garzoni often depicted her floral bouquets against pale, light-filled backdrops.
Giovanna Garzoni, Still life of flowers in a glass vase, c. 1640–1650 (detail)
The glass vase also brings the surrounding space into the frame of the image in a reflection which reveals a window—a nod to the world beyond the narrow view afforded here and a motif seen in many paintings of the time. The reflection also seems to show the light coming from the window projected against a wall. These elements perhaps signal Garzoni's awareness of the growing fields of optics and lens production. During the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, optics was being revolutionized by figures such as Johannes Kepler, who in 1604 published the first treatise on the subject.
Pieter Claesz, Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball, c.1628. Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg
Georg Bartisch, οφθαλμο·δουλια (Ophthalmoduleia: das ist Augendienst), 1583
Illustration of the theory of the retinal image in Rene Descartes’ La Dioptrique, 1637