Giambattista Tiepolo
Biography of Italian Rococo Fresco Painter.

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Apollo and Beatrix of Burgundy
By Tiepolo. Detail from the fabulous
Wurzburg Residence frescoes (1750-3).
on the ceiling of the Grand Stairwell at
the Wurzburg Palace (1751-53)

Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770)


Early Life and Training
Fresco Painting
Altarpieces, Religious Art
Wurzburg Residenz Frescoes
Villa Valmarana
Apotheosis of Spain
Reputation and Legacy
Selected Paintings

Apollo and the Continents (Europe)
(1752-53) Stairwell. Wurzburg Residenz


Tiepolo was the towering figure of 18th-century Venetian painting. A supreme virtuoso of huge fresco decorations shimmering with light and air, and large-scale altarpiece art, he was also an outstanding draughtsman and printmaker. He was the finest Italian painter in the Rococo style and the last great master of the Italian Grand Manner established by the High Renaissance. A keen student of cinquecento painters, as well as contemporary artists, he was influenced by Raphael (1483-1520), Michelangelo (1475-1564), Titian (1485-1576), and also several Baroque masters including Rubens (1577-1640). In his etchings, there are echoes of Rembrandt (1606-69), Castiglione (1609-64) and Durer (1471-1528). Curiously, he never worked in Rome, France or England, the key centres of academic classicism, but was active in Venice, Germany and Spain.

Apollo and the Continents (America)
(1752-53) Stairwell. Wurzburg Residenz

Other famous exponents of the
Rocaille movement include:
Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721)
Francois Boucher (1703-1770)
Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806)

For biographies and paintings
of the greatest artists in Europe
from the Renaissance to 1800,
see: Old Masters: Top 100.

For a discussion about the
meaning and definition of art,
see: What is Art?

Early Life and Training

Born Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, in Venice, he studied under the mediocre history painter Gregorio Lazzarini (1655-1730). According to the latter's biographer Vincenzo da Canal, Lazzarini's diligent manner did not suit his spirited pupil who was more affected by senior contemporaries like Sebastiano Ricci (1659-1734), and above all by the sombre and dramatic style of Giovanni Battista Piazzetta (1683-1754), as in early works like The Sacrifice of Isaac (1716, Ospedaletto, Venice), The Madonna of Mount Carmel (1721, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan) and Glory of St Teresa (1725, Scalzi, Venice). As it was, he left Lazzarini's atelier in 1717, and became a member of the Fraglia or guild of painters. In 1719, at the age of 23, Tiepolo married Maria Cecilia Guardi, whose brothers - Francesco Guardi and Giovanni Antonio Guardi - were both Venetian painters. Tiepolo went on to father nine children.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.
For the greatest view painters, see:
Best Landcape Artists.
For the greatest still life art, see:
Best Still Life Painters.
For the greatest portraitists
see: Best Portrait Artists.
For the greatest genre-painting, see:
Best Genre Painters.
For the top allegorical painting,
see: Best History Painters.

For a list of the finest works,
see: Greatest Paintings Ever.

Fresco Painting

Until the mid-1720s he specialized in oil painting, after which he turned increasingly to fresco, lightened his palette and came more under the influence of the great Venetian colourist Paolo Veronese (1528-1588), with whom he shared the joys of pageantry and an affinity for sparkling colour. However, whereas Veronese typically maintained a feeling of Renaissance classicism in his work, Tiepolo, like Correggio (1494-1534), Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669), Luca Giordano (1634-1705) and Francesco Solimena (1657-1747) before him, created exhilarating suggestions of airy space, notably in his ceiling frescos whose central area frequently depicts open skies. However, Tiepolo's visual creativity was strongly underpinned with a virtuoso skill in drawing, and it was this above all that allowed him to depict his soaring figures with such convincing reality.

In 1726, Tiepolo began his first major commission outside Venice.

This was the fresco decoration of the Archbishop's Palace in Udine. It took some two years to complete but led to a number of further commissions in Northern Italy. At the same time he continued working in Venice, painting a cycle of vast pictures of ancient battle scenes to decorate a large reception room overlooking the Grand Canal of Venice (c.1726–1729). The luminosity of this colour painting added greatly to his growing reputation, which was further bolstered by ceiling frescos in the Palazzi Archinto and Casati-Dugnani in Milan (1731). By 1736, such was Tiepolo's fame that he was invited to Stocholm to decorate the Royal Palace - a commission he declined due to the size of the fee.

Altarpieces, Religious Art

Until this point, most of his work had been secular in nature, but from the mid-1730s through the 1740s, he also executed a number of altarpieces and major religious paintings for a number of Venetian churches: notably, a set of three massive canvases (more in the emotional style of Tintoretto than the decorative idiom of Veronese) portraying scenes from Christ's Passion (c.1740) for the Church of Sant'Alvise. During the 1740s he also continued his secular work, one of the most important examples being the decoration of the Palazzo Labia (c.1745), featuring famous frescos of the Meeting of Anthony and Cleopatra and the Banquet of Anthony and Cleopatra, all of which he completed with the help of his regular collaborator Gerolamo Mengozzi Colonna (1688-1766), an expert in illusionist architecture.

Wurzburg Residenz Frescoes

In 1750 Tiepolo took his first trip outside Italy, at the invitation of Prince Bishop Karl Philipp von Greiffenklau, to complete a highly lucrative and prestigious commission - the decoration of the Prince-Bishop's Palace Wurzburg in Germany. The building, designed by Balthasar Neumann - the top European architect of the day - was known as the Wurzburg Residenz. Tiepolo's fresco decoration of the state dining room (Kaiseraal) and the ceiling of the Grand Staircase (Trepenhaus) proved to be the greatest and most imaginative masterpiece of his career. The focal point was the gloriously dramatic and soaring painting of Apollo Bringing the Bride (1750-1) in the centre of the Trepenhaus ceiling, in which Tiepolo displays his consummate mastery of draughtsmanship, foreshortening and perspective, as well as a shimmering colour palette of immense luminosity. In collaboration with Gerolamo Mengozzi Colonna (c.1688–1766), he achieved a new highpoint in quadratura - the trompe l'oeil illusionistic painting technique. The work brings to a majestic conclusion the Italian tradition of fresco painting initiated by Giotto (1270-1337) four hundred years earlier.

Villa Valmarana Frescoes

After completing the commission in 1753, Tiepolo returned to Venice where, four years later, he produced another masterpiece of decoration when he painted a series of rooms in the Villa Valmarana, near Vicenza, with scenes from Greek history and mythology. His innovative designwork and unrivalled speed of painting was again in evidence in 1758-9, when he decorated two ceilings at the Ca' Rezzonico in Venice, and the fresco of the Assumption at Udine, which he finished in a single month. His final large-scale Italian commission was the massive ceiling in the ballroom of the Villa Pisani at Stra, near Padua, which he painted in 1761.


Apotheosis of Spain

The following year, he journeyed to Madrid at the behest of King Charles II of Spain to create a number of ceiling frescos in the Royal Palace. Although 66 when he began, he completed three ceilings within four years including that of the huge throne room on which he portrayed the Apotheosis of Spain, illustrating the predominance of Spain in the Americas and across the globe. In addition, he painted seven altarpieces for the church of St Pascual in Aranjuez. While in Spain, it is said that Tiepolo so aroused the jealousy and envy of the Neoclassicist painter Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-79) - who at the time was the court painter to Charles II - that Mengs even hired thugs to beat him up. As it transpired, such was the prevailing fashion for Neoclassical art that within a couple of years of his death, Tiepolo's beautifully solemn altarpieces were removed and replaced by decidedly inferior substitutes painted by Mengs. Tiepolo himself died in the Spanish capital on March 27, 1770. He was survived by two artist-sons, the painter and etcher Giovanni Domenico 1727-1804, and the shorter-lived pastel portraitist and printmaker Lorenzo 1736-76).

Reputation and Legacy

One of the greatest (if not the greatest) fresco scene painters in the history of art, Tiepolo represented the culmination of an art form which spanned over four centuries. It was begun by Giotto in the Arena Chapel Padua, and later developed by Renaissance masters like Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) - in his Camera degli Sposi frescos for the Gonzaga family's Ducal Palace in Mantua - and Baroque masters, including Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669) - in his Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power (1633-39, Palazzo Barberini) - and Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709) - in his Apotheosis of St Ignatius (1688-94, Sant'Ignazio, Rome). Tiepolo's unique contribution was the creation of breathtakingly real and richly coloured scenes of dramatic narrative which seem to soar above the viewer, setting a new standard in illusionist architectural art.

Note: Tiepolo was an important influence on the great French lithographer and poster designer Jules Cheret (1836-1932).

Selected Paintings by Giambattista Tiepolo

In addition to the fine art painting and fresco works referred to above, Tiepolo's output includes the following famous works:

- The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew (1722) San Stae, Venice.
- The Rape of Europa (c.1725) Venice Academy Gallery.
- Allegory of the Power of Eloquence (c.1725) Courtauld Institute, London.
- Perseus & Andromeda (1730) Frick Collection, New York.
- Angel rescuing Hagar (1732) Scuola di San Rocco, Venice.
- John the Baptist Preaching (1732-1733) Cappella Colleoni, Bergamo.
- Beheading of John the Baptist (1732-1733) Cappella Colleoni, Bergamo.
- Scourge of the Serpents (1732-1735) Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice.
- Joseph Receiving a Ring from the Pharaoh (1735) Dulwich Gallery, London.
- Triumph of Zephyr and Flora (1735) Museo del Settecento, Venice.
- Jupiter & Danae (1736) Universitet Konsthistoriska Institutionen, Stockholm.
- Pope St. Clement Adoring the Trinity (1738) Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
- Virgin with Six Saints (1737-1740) Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest.
- The Virgin Appearing to St. Philip Neri (1740) Museo Diocesano, Camerino.
- The Gathering of Manna (1742) Parrocchiale, Verolanuova.
- Virtue & Nobility putting Ignorance to Flight (1743) Dulwich Gallery, London.
- Time Unveiling Truth (c.1743) Museo Civico Palazzo Chiericati, Vicenza.
- The Banquet of Cleopatra (1744) National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
- Worshippers (1745) Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice.
- Apollo & Daphne (1744-1745) Musée du Louvre, Paris.
- Discovery of the True Cross (c.1745) Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice.
- Time Unveiling Truth (c.1745-1750) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
- Glorification of the Barbaro Family (1750) Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.
- St. James the Greater Conquering the Moors (1750) Budapest Museum.
- Collecting Mana (c.1751) National Museum of Serbia, Belgrade.
- Allegory of Planets and Continents (1752) Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.
- Adoration of the Magi (1753) Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
- Coronation of the Virgin (1754) Kimbell Art Museum, Dallas.
- An Allegory with Venus and Time (1754-58) National Gallery, London.
- Seated Man and a Girl with a Pitcher (c.1755) National Gallery, London.
- The Theological Virtues (c.1755) Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels.
- The Martyrdom of St. Agatha (c.1756) Staatliche Museum, Berlin.
- The Vision of St. Anne (1759) Gemaldegalerie, Dresden.
- Madonna of the Goldfinch (c.1760) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
- Woman with a Parrot (1760-61) Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
- San Carlo Borromeo (1769) Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio.
- The Immaculate Conception (1767-1769) Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Works by Giambattista Tiepolo can be seen in many of the best art museums throughout the world.

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