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Between and Mortarboard

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Landscape with Washerwoman

Accession Number

Landscape with Washerwoman

Alessandro Magnasco

Artist Nationality
Italian (culture or style)

Object Creation Date
circa 1711-1720

Medium & Support
oil on canvas

37 5/8 in. x 53 5/8 in. ( 95.6 cm x 136.2 cm )

Credit Line
Museum Purchase

Label copy
March 28, 2009
Magnasco was a visionary artist of great originality, experimenting constantly throughout his career with both subject matter and style. In this moody landscape, the iconoclastic Magnasco rejects the light and airy style of painting that was flourishing in Venice at the time in favor of somber colors and dramatic lighting. Rather than creating a bucolic vision of nature, he employs sharply angled light and brushwork characterized by rapid execution and a fluid, almost feathery handling of paint to create a landscape that is unsettled and agitated. The flickering light of the foreground leads back in space through a darkly illuminated valley to a distant range of blue mountains and white clouds. Forms are rendered through broken brushstrokes, and the diminutive, rustic figures are fragmented into patches of light and dark. Though Magnasco’s style differed markedly from that
of the popular Venetian School, he was an enormously successful painter and found patrons for his work among the prominent families and collectors of Milan; he is known to have been active in the intellectual debates that raged in progressive aristocratic circles in that city.
Paintings by Magnasco in the Detroit Institute of Arts (Satire of the Nobleman in Poverty) and Cleveland Museum of Art (The Synagogue) give a sense of the extent of Magnasco’s experimentation with subject matter and suggest a possible political content to some of his work from this period.

Subject matter
Women washing clothes in a landscape setting was a common subject matter in landscape painting of this period. The reason for this choice of subject matter is unknown, but this painting shows Magnasco's landscape style of incorporating small figures, doing their daily work, in an expansive view of nature.
In the foreground, we see two women washing clothes in a small stream. On the far left, a man is sitting next to a basket filled with clothing. There is one othe figure seen from the back.

Physical Description
This landscape scene has an expansive blue sky in the upper half of the composition contrasted with the dark countryside, painted in hues of dark green and brown, in the lower portion. On the horizon, in between these two areas, is a mountain range with sharp pointed peaks. The forms of the bright white clouds mimick the foliage of the trees.
There are figures in the foreground area, although the rugged countryside shows no sign of habitation. On the right, two women are shown bending over, washing clothes in a small stream. There is a man sitting next to a laundry basket in the far left corner. A fourth figure, seen from the back only, is placed in the center area of the foreground.

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type

Collection Area

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landscapes (representations)
washing (cleaning)
women (female humans)

6 Related Resources

Landscape and Nature, Comparative and Historical
(Part of 3 Learning Collections)
(Part of 4 Learning Collections)
Work and Workers
(Part of 9 Learning Collections)
Mood in Landscape Tour
(Part of: Docent Thematic Tours)
Early Modern European Peasants
(Part of 10 Learning Collections)

& Author Notes

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