March 2020 marked the 250th anniversary of the death of the prolific international painter and printmaker. In October, the Gallerie d’Italia, Milan will open an exhibition dedicated entirely to the master.
Bianca Spaggiari /MutualArt
Giambattista Tiepolo, short for Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, a painter and man of many virtues besides multiple talents, is noteworthy within the history of Italian painters of the 18th century. His artistic practice was as luminous as poetic, bearing lightness and elegance. He was a forward-thinking personality and his temperament and persona became a stronghold of the Rococo period, though he is still unknown to many. This fall 2020, however, Gallerie d’Italia, Milan will be holding an exhibition dedicated entirely to Tiepolo for the very first time, honoring the 250th anniversary of his death.
Born in the Repubblica della Serenissima (Venice) in 1696, Giambattista was soon entrusted by his mother to Gregorio Lazzarini, a painter of the decorative arts with a bias for academic taste, who enhanced Tiepolo’s blooming passion for the arts and provided him with the right tools to improve and turn his passion into a profession. During his earliest practice, Tiepolo was drawn to a predominantly melancholic style, which is deeply alluring due to the outstanding chiaroscuro technique with the use of strongly juxtaposed light and dark shades, resulting in a stressed gloominess, as seen in The sacrifice of Isaac, 1724–29. The fresco was Tiepolo’s earliest commission meant to be a public work, located in the Palazzo Patriarcale of Udine. The depiction stages a shaft of divine light accompanying an angel floating on a cloud whilst descending from the sky; the sky being of obscure contrast, for it is dark and gloomy, portrayed as compromising as Isaac’s sacrifice.
Tiepolo’s studio was already thriving in 1717, despite his youth, so much so that Tiepolo’s name appeared in the inventory of the Venetian painters’ guild as an independent painter; a fact attested by his marriage to Cecilia Guardi, the sister of the painters Gianantonio and Francesco. Hence. By that time he was already part of a high-end entourage. Soon after, he was called to Milan, Bergamo, and Vicenza, and in 1736 selected by Count Tessin to decorate the Royal Palace in Stockholm, for he was “full of spirit, dazzling color, and with astonishing speed.” After that, he spent most of his time working from Italy and sent works abroad. His fast-paced identity, however, never stopped travelling.
While abroad, he had the opportunity to become acquainted with a wider breadth of artists, such as Rubens and Rembrandt, who weren’t well represented in Venetian collections. Tiepolo eventually pursued a more romanticist career, depicting constellations of poetic themes, often rooted in the Italian Renaissance literary tradition, as in the case of Rinaldo and Armida from Torquato Tasso’s great heroic epos, and conceived as part of a series for Villa Valmerana, near Vicenza. In the story, Armida, resting after the hardship of war, recognizes Rinaldo as an enemy and is about to kill him. Yet suddenly her hate turns into love and she carries him away to an enchanted island, far from war, where Rinaldo is caught in the spell of her love. Two warriors sent to look for him make him aware of his error by holding up a shield as a mirror, reminding him of the battle, and take him back with them. Tiepolo’s Armida is a magnificent Venus and the characters are vividly depicted on a canvas defined by a sense of movement, well rendered in the way the surface is structured. The coloration exudes lightness, juxtaposing the complexity of the characters’ feelings, all rendered through the use of white, soft and pale tones.
His artistic scholarship, however, was complex and varied: he surveyed the works of both Venetian and foreign contemporaries and studied precedent painters as well, as validated by his large production of etchings of 16th-century subjects. Through his dense artistic activity, Tiepolo mastered a wide range of forms and hidden geometries, ranging from diagonals and crosses serving as structure either to the canvas or fresco aimed at rendering the sense of desired movement, to the vivid and lively narrative imbued with mythological meaning. The young Tiepolo left a Venice in the 18th century that was booming with literary and visual arts, but it seems very unlikely that he was not influenced by his Venetian contemporaries, such as Canaletto, as their inspiration is visible in his use of pastel, almost dreamy palettes, and in the presence of great luminosity even in later stages in life. Besides, Tiepolo surely understood their approaches, as they are all recurrent in his comprehensive oeuvre.
The main focus of the upcoming exhibition will shine a light on the academic years Tiepolo spent affirming his personality and presence in Milan, Dresden and Madrid, his last destination. The exhibition will consist of forty autographed artworks, many of which entail religious themes and are filled with mythological nuances. Split into eight sections (or exhibition spaces), it will concentrate on the internationality of the artist, gradually taking the visitors through his personal and artistic growth, touching on the aforementioned cities, but always returning to Milan, the primary point of his artistic education. Curated by Fernando Mazzocca and Alessandro Morandotti, the exhibition will combine sacral, allegorical, mythological, and theatrical elements, alongside magnificent images of antiquity, all apt to dignify the many and mesmerizing aspects of Tiepolo.
The exhibition will be held at Gallerie d’Italia Milan — Piazza Scala, from October 30, 2020 until March 21, 2021.
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