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Born: 5 March 1695/6, Venice

Died: 27 March 1769/70, Madrid

GIOVANNI BATTISTA TIEPOLO was the unchallenged lion of Venetian painters of the Rococo period and, indeed, all of the 18th century. His characteristic style displays numerous active figures in vivid pastel colors ranged across vast, airy spaces. Critic Robert Hughes describes Tiepolo's work as "full of soaring and twisting space, transparency and delicious shot-silk color -- a place dedicated to the imagination and filled with idealized personages from history, myth and fable." Yet arts historian Paul Holberton has observed that Tiepolo "could temper the graceful, operatic posturing typical of the Rococo school with an Olympian grandeur."

Tiepolo began his career as a student of Gregorio Lazzarini (and perhaps of Piazetta) but his elegant and sumptuous style was perhaps most heavily influenced by his study of the work of his predecessor more than 100 years earlier, Paolo Caliari [Veronese]. In 1732 Da Canal wrote that Tiepolo "was Doge [Giovanni II] Cornaro's painter at [the Doge's] San Polo [palace]; he used to supervise the distribution of pictorial things in [the Doge's] rich home, and . . . painted several overdoor decorations with tasteful portraits and paintings." He painted for the palace (c. 1715) a portrait of the Doge himself now displayed in the Egidio Martini Collection at Museo Ca' Rezzonico in Venice) and a portrait of the Doge's ancestor Doge Marco Cornaro (B-1).

Tiepolo executed paintings and frescos throughout Venice and the Veneto, with excursions to Bergamo (Colleoni Chapel) and Milan (ceiling, Palazzzo Clerici). Among prominent installations of his work in Venice are the ceiling panels of the Scuola Grande dei Carmine (early 1740s). His earliest surviving frescos were created, 1734, for the then newly-rebuilt villa of Count Loschi at Brion de Monteviale near Vicenza.

In 1750, however, Tiepolo removed for a period of three years to Wurzburg, where he executed magnificent ceiling paintings and frescos for the Archbishop's palace. In 1761, at the invitation of Carlos III, Tiepolo left Venice again, this time to create frescos for the royal palace in Madrid, where he remained until his death. Tiepolo is buried in Venice in his parish church of Madonna dell'Orto, where he is represented by the giant canvas The Worship of the Golden Calf and by The Last Judgment.

In recent years Tiepolo's reputation has suffered from the condemnation that his work is artificial, even frivolous. The spate of grand exhibitions marking the 300th anniversary of his birth have, however, brought still another reappraisal. Now the "distanced, self-aware theatrics of his style" are seen as precociously modern -- but with a virtuosity unique to Tiepolo himself.


1997-9 C. I. Gable