Giuseppe Ghislandi, better known as Fra’Galgario was a painter from Bergamo, born into a family of artists. His father, Domenico Ghislandi, was an architectural trompe l’oeil painter and his brother, Defendete Ghislandi, a painter. Giuseppe trained first with Giacomo Cotta and then with Bartolomeo Bianchini, with whom he remained for four years. In 1675 he moved to Venice, where he became a friar in the monastery of San Francesco di Paola. Apart from a brief period in Bergamo, Ghislandi remained in Venice until 1701, working in the studio of Sebastiano Bombelli, a portrait specialist. Little is known of his training and early years in Venice. Ghislandi returned to Bergamo in 1702, having turned down Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni’s invitation to travel to Rome. He entered the monastery of the Galgario from which he took his name. Fra’Galgario’s first known works date from this period, by which time he was already fifty years old. His style reveals the influence of portraits by the German painter Salomon Adler, who was active in Bergamo during the first decade of the 18th century. From Adler, Fra’Galgario derived his minutely detailed study of the sitters, which he combined with the elegance and artifice characteristic of Venetian portraiture.
Despite his isolated existence in the monastery, Fra’Galgario’s work was known throughout Italy and much of Europe. In 1717 he travelled to Bologna where he was made an honorary member of the Accademia Clementina. This allowed brought him into contact with Bolognese artistic circles, in particular with Giuseppe Maria Crespi and other contemporary masters such as Sebastiano Ricci, with whom Fra’Galgario exchanged material, and Giambattista Tiepolo.
In his last works Fra’Galgario abandoned the objectivity that had characterised his treatment of his sitters and instead presented them in a far more subjective manner. Technically his late works also evolve, particularly with regard to the brushstroke, which becomes looser, while he also applied the paint directly with his fingers.