Rotari was an Italian painter. His artistic career began as a youthful distraction, but his talent quickly became apparent, and he entered the studio of Antonio Balestra in Verona, remaining there until he was 18. He spent the years 1725–7 in Venice and then moved c. 1728 to Rome, where he stayed for four years as a student of Francesco Trevisani. Between 1731 and 1734 he studied with Francesco Solimena in Naples before returning to Verona, where he set up his own studio and school.
His most notable early independent works are multi-figured altarpieces (e.g. the Four Martyrs, 1745; Verona, church of the Ospedale di S Giacomo), which emulate 17th-century Roman and Neapolitan works. However, he also studied the smaller, more intimate paintings of Roman Baroque artists, and these influenced his later works. He fell victim to the wanderlust that appears to have been endemic to 18th-century Venetian painters, and c. 1751 he travelled to Vienna. He later moved to Dresden, where he became known for his imaginary portraits of figures displaying various emotions, such as the so-called Portrait of a Maid (Warsaw, National Museum). Admirably composed and coloured, these works are painted with great sensitivity of observation.
Rotari’s reputation procured for him an invitation from Elizabeth I, Empress of Russia, which he accepted in 1756, shortly thereafter becoming court painter to the Empress, a position he held until his death. The best-known of his works for the Russian court are his portraits, of which he made a vast number.
Besides these court portraits, however, Rotari’s primary activity in Russia seems to have been to paint a huge number of portraits of apparently anonymous Russians. While he sometimes produced images of the children and young ladies of the nobility, more frequently his portraits constitute an almost nationalistic survey of Russian villagers and peasants. A group of 50 was presented by Elizabeth to the new Russian Academy of Art. Catherine II’s misnamed ‘Cabinet’s of the Muses and Graces’ at the Peterhof Palace is virtually upholstered with 367 of these portraits, purchased after the deaths of Rotari and Empress Elizabeth.