Wurzburg Residence Frescoes (1750-53) by Tiepolo
Interpretation of Venetian Rococo Fresco Murals

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Apollo's chariot in the centre
of the ceiling above the Grand
Stairwell at Wurzburg.
By Tiepolo.
Regarded as one of the
greatest paintings of
the eighteenth century
Venetian School.

Wurzburg Residence Frescoes (1750-53)
'Allegory of the Planets and Continents' above the Treppenhaus


Analysis of the Wurzburg Residenz frescoes
Interpretation of Other Mural Paintings


Name: Wurzburg Residenz Frescoes (1750-53)
Artist: Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770)
Medium: Fresco painting
Genre: History painting
Movement: Venetian Rococo art
Location: Treppenhaus/ Kaiserhaal, Wurzburg Palace

For the meaning of other famous masterpieces,
please see: Famous Paintings Analyzed (1250-1800).

Allegorical figures depicting
the Continent of America.
By Tiepolo.
Treppenhaus, Wurzburg Palace.


The greatest of all Rococo artists in Venice, Tiepolo was the last great master of the Italian Grand Manner established by the Italian Renaissance. Although later he was to create numerous outstanding Venetian altarpieces and other religious paintings, from the mid-1720s he spent more of his time on fresco work, coming under the influence of Paolo Veronese (1528-88). However, he did not share Veronese's taste for classicism and instead developed his own style of light and airy mural painting, based on his exceptional skill at drawing and foreshortening. In this sense, he is closer to quadraturisti like Correggio (1494-1534), Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669), Luca Giordano (1634-1705) and Francesco Solimena (1657-1747). His important fresco decorations included those in the: Archbishop's Palace in Udine; the Palazzi Archinto, Palazzo Clerici and the Casati-Dugnani in Milan; the Palazzo Labia (c.1745), where he was assisted by his colleague Gerolamo Mengozzi Colonna (1688-1766), an expert in illusionist quadratura painting. By 1750, his reputation was throughly established throughout Europe, with the help of his friend the erudite art dealer Count Francesco Algarotti (1712-64).

Analysis of the Wurzburg Residenz frescoes by Tiepolo

In 1750, he accepted a commission from Prince Bishop Karl Philip von Greiffenklau to decorate the latter's residenz at Wurzburg. The entire project took some three years to complete, and involved the decoration of the Imperial Hall (Kaisersaal) (1751–52), followed by the grandiose entrance stairway (Treppenhaus) (1752-53), designed by Balthasar Neumann, one of the great designers involved in German Baroque art. It became Tiepolo's supreme masterpiece of Gesamtkunst (total art), unifying architecture, painting and sculpture.



The frescoes in the Imperial Hall have mainly Germanic themes - see' for instance, The Marriage of Frederick Barbarossa and Beatrice of Burgundy (1751-2) - while in the great vaulted ceiling over the Treppenhaus - at 7287 square feet (677 square metres) one of the largest expanses ever to have been covered in fresco - the theme was "Allegory of the Planets and Continents." This monumental mythological painting, which occasionally encroaches onto architectural elements below, extends over a flattened basket vault that spans a complex arrangement of flights and landings. It shows the Four Continents beneath a central Heaven presided over by an art-loving Apollo. Around him, deities symbolize the planets, while groups of allegorical figures on the cornice represent the four continents. From directly beneath, the overwhelming sensation is of the great, rose-colored, boundlessness of Heaven, its zodiac and the seasons. Viewed obliquely from the landings, however, it is the unfurling composition and absorbing details that delight the eye: America with its alligator and cannibals, the camel and pearl-traders of Africa, the obelisk and slaves of Asia, and the elaborate Arts of Europe glorifying Karl Philipp von Greiffenklau, the Prince-Bishop patron, and its witty portraits of Tiepolo and Neumann.

The illusionist interplay between architectural features and painterly elements is understated. Tiepolo's theatrical fresco is neither an architectural trompe-l'oeil, in which first Andrea Pozzo in Rome and then eighteenth-century Genoese painters indulged, nor a dazzling perspective, as found in many church interiors: Wurzburg is more a series of panoramic sweeps depicting the world as it was known at that time. One thing is clear, however: Tiepolo's mastery as a storyteller is without equal. The composition is of exceptional liveliness, lightness, and elegance, with luminous colours borne aloft by a momentum that scatters gods and allegories, whips up the clouds, and rips open the sky. The frescoes are a fabulous, eye-popping display whose fireworks bring down the curtain on the Golden Age of Venetian painting.

Interpretation of Other Mural Paintings

Sistine Chapel Frescoes (1508-41) by Michelangelo.
The Vatican, Rome.

Raphael Rooms (1508-20)
The Vatican Apartments, Rome.

Assumption of the Virgin (Correggio) (1526-30)
Parma Cathedral.

Farnese Gallery frescoes (1597-1608) by Annibale Carracci.
Palazzo Farnese, Rome.

Allegory of Divine Providence (1633-39) by Pietro da Cortona.
Gran Salone, Palazzo Barberini, Rome.

Apotheosis of St Ignatius (1688-94) by Andrea Pozzo.
Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Campus Martius, Rome.


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