Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Mar 5, 1696 – Mar 27, 1770), also known as Gianbattista or Giambattista Tiepolo, was an Italian painter and printmaker from the Republic of Venice. He was prolific, and worked not only in Italy, but also in Germany and Spain.
Giovan Battista Tiepolo, together with Giambattista Pittoni, Canaletto, Giovan Battista Piazzetta, Giuseppe Maria Crespi and Francesco Guardi forms the traditional great Old Masters of that period.
Successful from the beginning of his career, he has been described by Michael Levey as “the greatest decorative painter of eighteenth-century Europe, as well as its most able craftsman.”
Some major commissions came from the patrician Dolfin family. Dioniso Dolfin, the Archbishop of Udine in Friuli employed him to decorate a chapel in the cathedral at Udine, and then to paint another cycle depicting episodes from the lives of Abraham and his descendants from the book of Genesis at his archiepiscopal palace (the “Arcivescovado”) (completed 1726–1728). Despite their elevated subject matter, they are bright in colour, and light-hearted in mood: Michael Levey describes the paintings at the palace as “a shimmering set of tableaux, full of wit and elegance. Tiepolo used a much cooler palette than previous Venetian painters, in order to create a convincing effect of daylight. His first masterpieces in Venice were a cycle of ten enormous canvases painted to decorate a large reception room of Ca’ Dolfin on the Grand Canal of Venice (ca. 1726–1729), depicting battles and triumphs from the history of ancient Rome.
These early masterpieces, innovative amongst Venetian frescoes for 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 in Venice (now a television studio), showing the Story of Cleopatra (1745–1750).
Tiepolo produced two sets of etchings, the Capricci (c.1740–2) and the Scherzi di fantasia (c.1743–57) . The ten capricci were first published by Anton Maria Zanetti, incorporated into the third edition of a compilation of woodcuts after Parmigiano. They were not published separately until 1785. The subject matter is often bizarre and fantastical, and the works owe a lot to the example of Salvator Rosa and Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione. The 23 Scherzi were etched over more than ten years and privately circulated, only being commercially published after Tiepolo’s death, with numbers and titles added by his son, Giandomenico. Subjects include mysterious Eastern figures, and, in some of the later prints, scenes of necromancy.
By 1750, Tiepolo’s reputation was firmly established throughout Europe, with the help of his friend Francesco Algarotti, an art dealer, critic and collector. That year, at the behest of Prince Bishop Karl Philip von Greiffenklau, he traveled to Würzburg where he arrived in November 1750. He remained there for three years during which he executed ceiling paintings in the New Residenz palace (completed 1744). He frescoed the Kaisersaal salon in collaboration with his sons Giandomenico and Lorenzo and was then invited to deliver a design for the grandiose entrance staircase (Treppenhaus) designed by Balthasar Neumann. It is a massive ceiling fresco at 7287 square feet (677 m2), and was completed in November 1753. 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. He included several portraits in the Europe section of this fresco, including a self-portrait; one of his son Giandomenico; one of the prince-bishop von Greiffenklau; one of the painter Antonio Bossi; and one of the architect, Balthasar Neumann.
The Immaculate Conception, painted between 1767 and 1768
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 houses 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 Villa Pisani in Stra.
In some celebrated frescoes at the Palazzo Labia, he depicted two scenes from the life of Cleopatra: Meeting of Anthony and Cleopatra and Banquet of Cleopatra, as well as, in a central ceiling fresco, the Triumph of Bellerophon over Time. Here he collaborated with Girolamo Mengozzi Colonna. This connection with Colonna, who also designed sets for opera, highlights the increasing tendency towards composition as a staged fiction in Tiepolo’s frescoes. The architecture of the Banquet fresco also recalls that of Veronese’s Wedding at Cana. In 1757, he painted an altar piece for the Thiene family, representing the apotheosis of Saint Cajetan. It is in the church of hamlet of Rampazzo in the Camisano Vicentino.
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.
He also painted two other ceilings in the palace, and carried out many private commissions in Spain. However he suffered from the jealousy and the bitter opposition of the rising champion of Neoclassicism, Anton Raphael Mengs; at the instigation of Mengs’ supporter, the King’s confessor Joaquim de Electa, had Tiepolo’s series of canvases for the church of S. Pascual at Aranjuez replaced by works by his favourite.
After his death, the rise of a stern Neoclassicism and the post-revolutionary decline of absolutism led to the slow decline of the style associated with his name, but failed to dent his reputation. In 1772, Tiepolo’s son was sufficiently respected to be painter to Doge Giovanni Cornaro, in charge of the decoration of Palazzo Mocenigo in the sestiere of San Polo, Venice.