Pietro Rotari studied first in his native Verona with Antonio Balestra before setting off in 1727 for Rome and Naples, where he entered first the studio of Francesco Trevisani and then that of Francesco Solimena. He returned to his hometown in 1734 and opened a private academy. There, he concentrated on the production of historical and religious paintings which were to bring him international fame. In 1740, Rotari was awarded the title of Count of the Venetian Republic in recognition of his achievements. The following year he travelled to Vienna, where he met Jean-Etiènne Liotard, the Swiss pastellist, whose work profoundly influenced him. Rotari was in Dresden in the service of Frederick Augustus III when he received the invitation of the Empress Elisabeth of Russia, daughter of Peter the Great, to come to Saint Petersburg as First Painter of the Court. He arrived in Russia in 1756 and soon amassed a large fortune; a visit to his richly appointed house on the Bolsciasia Morskaia was obligatory for high-ranking visitors to the city.
Although he continued to work as a history painter in Saint Petersburg, it was there that Rotari developed the genre still associated with his name: small paintings of idealized heads which depict with delicacy and studied artlessness, the emotions of young boys and girls. It would appear that virtually all of these heads were made in the period of six years between Rotari's arrival in Russia and his death in 1762.
Using a minimum of props -- a closed fan, a sprig of jasmine, an open book or, as here, a fur-trimmed muff -- Rotari presented absorbed reverie, timid surprise, or the hesitant desire and coy flirtation of A young girl hiding behind a muff, to the delight of his contemporaries. After Rotari's sudden death, Catherine the Great bought 340 of the artist's 'fancy pictures' for the salon of Peterhof, where small and large canvases are spread in a careful pattern over the walls above and between intricately carved rococo doors and mirrors. The pictures that Catherine did not buy were returned to Rotari's family in Verona, where they remained in the possession of his descendants until the late 19th century.