Donato Creti was born in Cremona in 1671, the son of Giuseppe Creti (1634-1714), an undistinguished Bolognese quadratura painter. After the family's return to Bologna, Donato's natural talents came to light and he soon entered the studio of the local painter Giorgio Raparini (1660-1725). While learning only the rudiments of the painter's art from Raparini, he spent his time drawing after prints by Guido Reni (1575-1642) and Simone Cantarini (1612-1648).
The young Creti's precocious talent did not go unnoticed, and at the urging of an associate of his father's he moved to the studio of Lorenzo Pasinelli (1629-1700), then the preeminent painter in Bologna. It is unclear how long he spent with Pasinelli before entering the household of his first patron, Count Alessandro Fava. Around 1700 he made his only trip outside Bologna, traveling to Venice in the company of the younger Fava, Pietro Ercole, a colleague from Pasinelli's life drawing classes. Here Creti gained firsthand experience of the Venetian painters who had been and would continue to be so important in his development, particularly Veronese (1528-1588) and Titian (1488-1576).
Creti began painting at the very young age of 15, and after an initial, as yet sparsely documented, period to about 1700, he settled into a mature style that changed little over the course of his life. This style derives principally from that of his teacher Pasinelli, a student of Simone Cantarini, who was, in turn, a student of Guido Reni. Creti is thus linked directly to the classical, Renian current in the Bolognese school by both temperament and training. According to his friend and biographer Anton Maria Zanotti, Creti was an obsessive perfectionist who took particular pains over the poses, expressions and draperies of individual figures. A similarly meticulous attention to detail is seen in his small, neat brushstrokes and his highly finished surfaces. His flesh tones are smooth and porcelain-like, and his bold colors have a deep, almost metallic brilliance, for, as Zanotti recounted, Creti shunned the dark varnishes used by other painters to imitate the patina that builds up naturally over time.
Creti's initial output was destined primarily for the collection of his principal patrons, Alessandro Fava and his son Pietro Ercole. From the first years of the eighteenth century he was mainly engaged in executing easel paintings for Bolognese nobles, as well as for Roman cardinals and foreign collectors. These paintings are primarily of mythological or pastoral subjects, generally consisting of a few graceful figures carefully disposed in idyllic landscape settings. In the latter part of his career, from c. 1730 on, he executed a number of large altarpieces for churches in Bologna and also sent many to nearby cities. In creating these religious works, he continued to look to Guido and the earlier Bolognese masters, drawing on them for compositional schemas and individual figures.
Along with Zanotti, Creti was active in the founding and subsequent activities of the Accademia Clementina in Bologna, but, perhaps due to his difficult personality, he had few students of his own. In any event, he had little impact on the development of the Bolognese school, which looked increasingly to outside, particularly Venetian, influences in the later eighteenth century. Creti died in Bologna in 1749. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Zanotti, Giampietro. Storia dell'Accademia Clementinea di Bologna. 2 vols. 1739. Reprint. Bologna, 1977: 2:99-122.
Miller, Dwight. "Donato Creti." In Dizionario biografico degli italiani. Edited by Alberto Maria Ghisalberti. 79+ vols. Rome, 1960+: 30(1984):749-752.
Roli, Renato. Donato Creti. Milan, 1967.
De Grazia, Diane, and Eric Garberson, with Edgar Peters Bowron, Peter M. Lukehart, and Mitchell Merling. Italian Paintings of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 77.