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 Giovanni Battista Tiepolo  (1696 - 1770)

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Lived/Active: Italy/Spain      Known for: Rococo painting, frescos, altarpieces, printmaking

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The Arrival of Henry III at the Villa Contarini
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, also known as Gianbattista or Giambattista Tiepolo, was an Italian painter and print maker from the Republic of Venice.  He was prolific, and worked not only in Italy, but also in Germany and Spain.

Early life (1696–1726)
Born in Venice, Tiepolo was the youngest of six children born to Orsetta, Tiepolo's mother and his father, Domenico Tiepolo, a sea captain. While the Tiepolo surname belongs to a patrician family, Giambattista's father did not claim patrician status. The future artist was baptised in his parish church (San Pietro di Castello) as Giovanni Battista, in honour of his godfather, a Venetian nobleman called Giovanni Battista Dorià. His father Domenico died a year after his birth, leaving Orsetta in difficult financial circumstances.

Giambattista was initially a pupil of Gregorio Lazzarini, but the influences from elder contemporaries such as Sebastiano Ricci and Giovanni Battista Piazzetta are stronger in his work. At 19 years of age, Tiepolo completed his first major commission, the Sacrifice of Isaac (now in the Accademia). He left Lazzarini studio in 1717, and was received into the Fraglia or guild of painters.

In 1719, Tiepolo was married to Maria Cecilia Guardi, sister of two contemporary Venetian painters Francesco and Giovanni Antonio Guardi. Together, Tiepolo and his wife had nine children. Four daughters and three sons survived childhood. Two sons, Domenico and Lorenzo, painted with him as his assistants and achieved some independent recognition. His third son became a priest.

Early mature work (1726–1750)
A patrician from the Friulian town of Udine, Dionisio Delfino, commissioned fresco decoration of the chapel and palace from the young Tiepolo (completed 1726–1728).  His  first masterpieces in Venice were a cycle of enormous canvases painted to decorate a large reception room of Ca' Dolfin on the Grand Canal of Venice (ca. 1726–1729), depicting ancient battles and triumph.

These early masterpieces, novel for Venetian frescoes in their luminosity, brought him many commissions.  He painted canvases for churches such as that of Verolanuova (1735–1740), for the Scuola dei Carmini (1740–1747), and the Chiesa degli Scalzi (1743–1744; now destroyed) in Cannaregio, a ceiling for the Palazzi Archinto and Casati-Dugnani in Milan (1731), the Colleoni Chapel in Bergamo (1732–1733), a ceiling for the Gesuati (Santa Maria del Rosario) in Venice of St. Dominic Instituting the Rosary (1737–1739), Palazzo Clerici, Milan (1740), decorations for Villa Cordellini at Montecchio Maggiore (1743–1744) and for the ballroom of the Palazzo Labia, now a television studio in Venice, showing the Story of Cleopatra (1745–1750).

Tiepolo frescoes the Würzburg Residenz (1750–1753)
By 1750, Tiepolo's reputation was firmly established throughout Europe.  That year, at the behest of Prince Bishop Karl Philip von Greiffenklau, he traveled to Würzburg where he resided for three years and executed ceiling paintings in the New Residenz palace (completed 1744).  His painting for the grandiose Neumann-designed entrance staircase (Treppenhaus) is a massive ceiling fresco at 7287 square feet (677 m2), and was completed in collaboration with his sons, Giandomenico and Lorenzo.  His Allegory of the Planets and Continents depicts Apollo embarking on his daily course; deities around him symbolize the planets; allegorical figures (on the cornice) represent the four continents Europe, Asia, Africa and America. He included a self-portrait beside a portrait of his son Giandomenico in the Europe section of this fresco.  He also frescoed the Kaisersaal salon.

Return to Venice and Veneto (1753–1770)
Tiepolo returned to Venice in 1753. He was now in demand locally, as well as abroad where he was elected President of the Academy of Padua. He went on to complete theatrical frescoes for churches; the Triumph of Faith for the Chiesa della Pietà; panel frescos for Ca' Rezzonico (which now also holds his ceiling fresco from the Palazzo Barbarigo); and paintings for patrician villas in the Venetian countryside, such as Villa Valmarana in Vicenza and an elaborate panegyric ceiling for the now nearly-vacant Villa Pisani in Stra.

In celebrated frescoes at the Palazzo Labia, he depicted two frescoes on the life of Cleopatra: Meeting of Anthony and Cleopatra and Banquet of Cleopatra, as well as a central ceiling fresco depicts Triumph of Bellerophon over Time. He collaborated with an expert in perspective, Girolamo Mengozzi Colonna. Colonna who also designed sets for opera highlights the increasing tendency towards composition as a staged fiction in his frescoes. The architecture of theBanquet fresco also recalls Veronese's Wedding at Cannae. In 1757, he painted the altar piece commissioned by the family Thiene, the work represents the apotheosis of Saint Cajetan, the altar piece is in the church of hamlet of Rampazzo in the Camisano Vicentino.

Frescoes for the Royal Palace in Madrid
In 1761, Charles III commissioned Tiepolo to create a ceiling fresco to decorate the throne room of the Royal Palace of Madrid. The panegyric theme is the Apotheosis of Spain and has allegorical depictions recalling the dominance of Spain in the Americas and across the globe. In Spain, he incurred the jealousy and the bitter opposition of the rising champion of Neoclassicism, Anton Raphael Mengs.

Tiepolo died in Madrid on March 27, 1770.

After his death, the rise of stern Neoclassicism and the post-revolutionary decline of royal absolutism led to the slow decline of the Tiepolo style, but had failed to dent his reputation. By 1772, Tiepolo's son was sufficiently famous to be documented as painter to Doge Giovanni Cornaro, in charge of the decoration of Palazzo Mocenigo a San Polo.

In his most fluid elaborations, Tiepolo has closest affinity to Ricci, Piazzetta, and Federico Bencovich. He is a shadowless fresco artist, a sunnier rococo Pietro da Cortona. His sumptuous historical set-pieces are enveloped in a regal luminosity. He is principally known for his fresco work, particularly his panegyric ceilings.  These followed the Baroque tradition begun a century before by Pietro da Cortona, converting roof to painted sky, elevating petty aristocrats to divine status, and allowing for vast compositions that merged with the delicate ornamentation of the stucco frames.  Like Luca Giordano, his palette was muted, almost water-color like. Like Giordano, he was prolific. With an unrivaled Sprezzatura, he painted worlds of fresco, and some such as the walls of Villa Valmarana in Vicenza, not only peer into the mythologic scenes, but are meant to relocate viewers into their midst. The earliest example of this is perhaps his canvases in the Ca' Dolfin, which allowed Tiepolo to introduce exuberant costumes, classical sculpture, and action that appears to spill from the frames into the room. Originally set into recesses, they were surrounded with frescoed frames.

While his painting is infused with the Venetian spirit, his luminosity is not seen in the previous masters; however, Tiepolo is considered the last "Olympian" painter of the Venetian Republic. Like Titian before him, Tiepolo was an international star, treasured by royalty far afield for his ability to depict glory in fresco.

His children painted figures with a design similar to that of their father, but with distinctive, including genre, styles.

Paintings before 1740:
The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew
San Stae, Venice

The Rape of Europa
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

Allegory of the Power of Eloquence
Courtauld Institute, Modello for Palazzo Sandi, Venice

Episcopal palace, Udine

Perseus & Andromeda
Frick Collection

Education of the Virgin
S. Maria della Consolazione (Fava), Venice

Angel rescuing Hagar
Scuola di San Rocco, Venice

John the Baptist preaching
Cappella Colleoni, Bergamo

Beheading of John the Baptist
Cappella Colleoni, Bergamo

Scourge of the Serpents
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

Joseph receiving ring from pharaoh
Dulwich Picture Gallery

Triumph of Zephyr and Flora
Museo del Settecento Veneziano, Ca' Rezzonico, Venice

Jupiter and Danaë
Universitet Konsthistoriska Institutionen, Stockholm

Pope St. Clement Adoring the Trinity
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Saint Augustin, Saint Louis of France, Saint John the Evangelist and a bishop
Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille

Institution of the Rosary
Santa Maria del Rosario (Gesuati), Venice

Christ Carrying the Cross
Sant'Alvise, Venice

The Madonna of Mount Carmel
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

Virgin with Six Saints
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Works from 1740–1750
The Virgin Appearing to St. Philip Neri
Museo Diocesano, Camerino

The Gathering of Manna
Parrocchiale, Verolanuova

The Sacrifice of Melchizedek
Parrocchiale, Verolanuova

Virtue and Nobility putting Ignorance to Flight
Norton Simon Museum(Pasadena, CA)

Empire of Flora
The Legion of Honor(San Francisco, CA)

Time Unveiling Truth
Museo Civico Palazzo Chiericati, Vicenza

The Banquet of Cleopatra
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

Apollo and Daphne
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Discovery of the True Cross
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

Time Unveiling Truth
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Frescoes of the story of Cleopatra
Palazzo Labia, Venice

The Virgin with 3 female Dominican Saints
Santa Maria del Rosario (Gesuati), Venice

Last Communion of St. Lucy
Santi Apostoli, Venice

The Banquet of Cleopatra and Antony
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh

The Glorification of the Barbaro Family
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

St. James the Greater Conquering the Moors
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Works after 1750

Residenz, Wurzburg

Collecting Manna
National Museum of Serbia, Belgrade

Allegory of Planets and Continents
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The Death of Hyacinth
Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid

Adoration of the Magi
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Coronation of the Virgin
Kimbell Art Museum, Dallas (modelo for Ospedale della Pietà)

An Allegory with Venus and Time
National Gallery, London

Frescoes from Roman mythology
Villa Valmarana, Vicenza

A Seated Man and a Girl with a Pitcher
National Gallery, London

The Theological Virtues
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

The Martyrdom of St. Agatha
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Allegory of Merit Accompanied by Nobility and Virtue
Museo del Settecento Veneziano, Ca' Rezzonico, Venice

The Vision of St. Anne
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

Modello for the Apotheosis of the Pisani Family
Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Angers

Madonna of the Goldfinch
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Woman with a Parrot
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Apotheosis of the Pisani Family
Villa Pisani, Stra

San Carlo Borromeo
Cincinnati Art Museum

The Immaculate Conception
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Glory of Spain
Throne Room of Royal Palace of Madrid

The Apotheosis of the Spanish Monarchy
Queen's Antechamber, Palacio Real, Madrid

Venus and Vulcan
Halberdiers' Room, Palacio Real, Madrid

    1.    Michael Levey, Painting in Eighteenth-Century Venice, rev. ed., Cornell University Press, 1980, 225–230


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