Pietro Testa: Master Draughtsman and Printmaker (3 stars)

Baroque tortured artist pulled out of obscurity by Scottish National Gallery

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Pietro Testa: Master Draughtsman and Printmaker

Located deep within the Scottish National Gallery, this show of 29 exhibits by Baroque etcher Pietro Testa doesn’t just rescue the little-known Italian printmaker from obscurity, it also exemplifies the tortured artist of the 17th century.

Shy and proud, Testa committed suicide in his late thirties; the frustration of rejected commissions combined with prolonged self-doubt led him to throw himself into the Tiber River. These autobiographical elements -- evident in every display -- are expressed through his fascination with ethereal, yet often violent, depictions of theological drama.

Some preliminary pieces demonstrate his draughtsmanship, while others, drawn in red chalk and pen prior to etching, highlight Testa’s quick, creative frenzies.

For the most part, though, the exhibition is full of putti-littered, classically-inspired allegorical scenes. Whether depicting God looking down from the Heavens, decapitated babies in ‘The Massacre of the Innocents‘, or monochrome rainbows cascading over a fairy-tale heroine -- they all present Testa’s masterful pen strokes, splashes and contours to fine effect.

Even Testa’s small self-portrait -- pudgy, long-haired and with big bags under his eyes -- provides articulate authentication of this etcher’s curious and tragic talent.

Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sat 12 Oct

Pietro Testa: Master Draughtsman and Printmaker

Work by the celebrated high baroque draughtsman and printmaker (1611–1650), a friend of Poussin, whose highly successful prints were frequently copied.

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