It is thanks to a 19th-century rediscovery that Giacomo Ceruti is now universally considered to be one of the greatest Italian masters of the 18th century. He worked solely in the north of Italy, in Milan, where he was born, and in Padua, Venice and other lesser towns. He also worked for a significant period in Brescia with the patronage of some important aristocratic families. While his works also included some altar paintings and mythological pictures, he is best known for his portraits and an interesting group of canvases with scenes of everyday life among the poorer classes. The presence of beggars (“ pitocchi ”) in these paintings gave him his nickname: Pitocchetto.
And indeed the painting of The Porter (“ Portarolo ”) shows a child dressed in rags, resting. He is sitting on a large basket, the tool of his humble trade. The figure is shown life-size and takes up the entire space of the composition: this was one of the distinctive features of Ceruti’s scenes of the life of the poor and he gave his subjects a unique dignity and monumentality. The dark background, devoid of any descriptive element, isolates the figure, giving the painting the psychological intensity of a portrait.
The characteristics of the composition and the broad, rapid brushstrokes bring the Porter into line with a whole series of pauperist paintings made for the noble Avogadro family during the artist’s stay in Brescia in about 1720–35.