Summary of Giambattista Tiepolo
The great 18th century Venetian painter Tiepolo ranks as the supreme exponent of the ornamental and asymmetrical Italian Rococo style. Tiepolo is thus associated with decorative, airy frescoes that displayed a partiality for pastel shades and sumptuous costumes. His art celebrated caprice (capriccio) and fantasy (fantasia) but within a thematic preference for ancient history and myth, and the holy scriptures. He is considered one of the great Venetian masters, and in his own time nobility and clergy hailed him "the most famous of the virtuosi". Indeed, the history of Western art tends to present Tiepolo as the last of the truly great Italian masters. In addition to his work in Italy, he produced spectacular masterpieces across Europe and especially in royal palaces in Bavaria and Spain. Bright in color and graceful of touch, his art is associated with the pleasure of looking though his work is also recognized for a spacious quality that allows the spectator to bring their own ideas to his wonderfully painted fantasies.
- Tiepolo is recognized above all else for a series of radiant and poetic frescoes that carry with them a profound lightness of touch and elegance. His frescoes earned him the nickname Veronese Redivio (the new Veronese) since, like Veronese, Tiepolo's luxurious mythological and religious narratives were brought to life by the hand of a most wonderful colorist. He also shared with Veronese the tendency to set his dramas against the backdrop of a painted architectural "stage".
- Tiepolo favored unhurried, fluid, brushstrokes through which he applied his trademark pastel palette. In the words of famous art historian E. H. Gombrich, the artist's style lent itself perfectly to "the whole aristocratic dream-world" which he did so much to help create. To this end, Tiepolo's dramatic narratives were often tallied with a noticeable degree of sparseness. This was not a blemish on Tiepolo's talent so much as an attempt to let the spectator add details to the picture by using their own imagination.
- Tiepolo was unique amongst his contemporaries for the value of his preparatory oil sketches. He would work from the outset on a single modelli (the norm being to break down the planned composition into multiple modelli) enabling him to explore color and compositional relationships as a whole piece. Tiepolo's oil sketches became valued in themselves as much more than functional studio pieces. Indeed, he followed the precedent set in the previous century by Peter Paul Rubens whose oil sketches were the first to became highly desired amongst collectors and other artists as artworks in their own right.
Biography of Giambattista Tiepolo
The fifth and youngest child of Domenico Tiepolo, a merchant and ship's captain, and Orsetta (maiden name unknown), Giambattista Tiepolo was born on April 16th, 1696 in the Sestiere of Castello, Venice. Both of his brothers, Domenico and Lorenzo, were to become eminent artists in their own right, particularly Domenico, but it was Giambattista Tiepolo who was to be the greatest of them all. While the family into which Giambattista was born was thoroughly bourgeois, it bore no aristocratic lineage. Giambattista, and indeed his siblings, all had high-born godparents but why this was so remains a mystery, though, at an educated guess, it might have been a result of Domenico's business connections. Tragedy stuck early in the life of the young Giambattista, however, when, in 1697, his father died. Domenico had left the family a decent inheritance, but the mother decided to entrust her youngest son to the care of Gregorio Lazzarini, an academic painter who taught his pupils basic painting techniques.
Important Art by Giambattista Tiepolo
There is some debate as to when this fresco was painted, but in all likelihood, it was undertaken between 1716-19. It adorns the ceiling of the Parish Church of Biadene, near Treviso, Italy and shows the Virgin bound for Heaven borne on a cloud, flanked by a number of angels and putti.
This is the painting with which Tiepolo made his debut in fresco. Its relatively dark tonality stands in marked contrast to his high-key late manner and shows the extent to which he was still under the sway of the high-contrast tenebrists, particularly that of Giambattista Piazzetta. It is not a masterpiece by any means, but it is an important painting, for it shows that Tiepolo did not, as it were, spring fully armed from the thigh of Zeus like Athena. Rather, The Assumption of the Virgin shows that his style evolved (albeit very quickly). A year or so later we find him painting two spectacular frescoes - The Triumph of Aurora and the Myth of Phaethon - for the Venetian publisher Giambattista Baglioni. Adriano Mariuz takes the view that it is only later that "Tiepolo fully realized his own talent and vocation as a peerless frescoist." Having said that, the way in which he arranges the figure in a vortex of curves, the pale azure of the heavens, the slightly Mannerist pose the Virgin strikes, and the broad brush work, all give us glimpses of what would become Tiepolo's trademark.
What first strikes one about this fresco, which Tiepolo painted on the ceiling of the church of the Gesuati (or Sta. Maria del Rosario) in his native Venice, is its sheer size. Indeed at 40 feet by 15 feet, it is the largest version of this subject in European art.
Tiepolo divides the work into two realms: heaven and earth. In the former, the Christ Child stands at his mother's knee and hands the rosary to several putti. They in turn pass it on to an earth-bound Saint Dominic dressed in the black and white habit of the order to which he gave his name. He in turn passes it to the outstretched arms of the faithful gathered on the steps beneath an imposing Palladian building complete with mighty ionic columns.
Behind Saint Dominic stand two angels and behind them several soldiers in shadow brandish weapons known as halberds. Beneath them on the right, all manner of people wait to receive the Rosary from the saint's hand. Among them is Doge Alvise Pisani, in a golden brocade coat, and the patriarch Correr, in an embroidered pluvial. Beneath the former, sit two women one with serpents in her hand and hair and the other clutches some golden coins. Two soldiers, one of whom has his back to the viewer, perch precariously on the last step. Finally, in a triumph of trompe l'oeil five unfortunate souls - symbolising avarice, lust, heresy, arrogance and the Devil - tumble headlong out of the painting. A grey dog sits with its head bowed on the lower left-hand corner of the painting, an allusion to the Dominican order (in latin domini canes, or God's hounds).
The Institution of the Rosary has a grandeur of conception which seems to recall the pomp of the Venetian High Renaissance, of which Tiepolo is perhaps its last representative. Yet, despite the scale of the piece and its extreme foreshortening, Tiepolo never loses control. He painted swiftly, and his bravura brushwork never falters. The eye rises in zig-zag fashion, first encountering one group of figures and then another, before arriving at the central figure of St. Dominic and so to the Madonna and the Christ Child above him on the cloud. The upshot is high drama tempered by a light-hearted Rococo charm and grace of form for which Tiepolo is famous. There is piety here, to be sure, but there is a certain levity too, in all senses of the word: a lightness of body, a lightness of touch and indeed a lightness of being.
In this, the third of four paintings for a room in the Venetian residence of the Conaro family, we find Tiepolo at the height of his powers. Inspired by Toquato Tasso's masterpiece, La Gerusalemme Liberata, it shows a reluctant Rinaldo taking his leave of the Saracen sorceress, Armida, with whom he has been dallying in an enchanted garden. He is being cajoled by friends, and fellow Crusaders, Charles and Ubaldi. Charles rests one hand on Rinaldo's shoulder and with the other points east to the Holy Land. Ubaldi presents him with a shield to remind him of his responsibilities to the Crusade. A ship awaits them at the right centre of the frame, leaving one in little doubt as to how the story must end. Armida tries to change his mind, even going so far as to stretch her leg provocatively to him, but her enticements are in vain.
It is well known that Tiepolo tended to paint with animated freedom. Yet here his alacrity is offset through the masterly economy with which he treats his landscape. The rock, the trees, the pine, the stump of the column, the tuft on which Armida sits and the ship in the distance are all represented without embellishments. The subtle treatment of the scenery allows Tiepolo to reserve his visual fireworks for the two lovers. In all likelihood, Tiepolo painted them all prima - or "at once" - that is, painted directly onto the picture surface without later retouching. Languid, fluid, brushstrokes coupled with his trademark Rococo pastel palette, lend further elegance to the figures, blunting the heartache of both Armida and Rinaldo.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Giambattista Tiepolo
- Giambattista Tiepolo, 1696-1770By Keith Christiansen and the Museo Settecento Veneto and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
- Masters of Art: TiepoloBy William Barcham
- Tiepolo-Drawings and EtchingsBy Narim Bender
- Giambattista Tiepolo: Fifteen oil sketchesBy Jon Seydl
- Tiepolo and the Pictorial IntelligenceBy Prof. Svetlana Alpers and Prof. Michael Baxandall