b. 1611 Lucca, Italy, d. 1650 Rome, Italy
Among the most renowned Italian printmakers and draftsmen of the 1600s, Pietro Testa desired fame as a history painter but never achieved it. According to his biographer, Testa's "talent inclined him strongly towards philosophy, and made him prefer retirement and solitude. . . . [H]e could never accommodate himself to playing the courtier in antechambers."
In Rome by the late 1620s, Testa drew hundreds of antiquities for engravings and for various patrons. In 1631 he entered Pietro da Cortona's studio, but Cortona threw him out because of his difficult personality. After an interlude in Lucca, Testa returned to Rome vowing to study coloring. In fact, he continued to concentrate on drawing and etching, where his greater skills lay. Another stay in Lucca six years later failed to attract new patrons.
Back in Rome, Testa began a treatise on painting, rejecting Baroque illusionism and the concept of copying nature like those "dirty and ridiculous apes of nature," the Dutch Italianates. He also transformed his imagery, replacing poetic mythologies with ancient history themes and employing a more severe, monumental style anticipating Neoclassicism. After career setbacks, he grew preoccupied with tragic themes and finally drowned in the Tiber River, probably a suicide.
Italian, about 1645