Tiepolo (1696 - 1770)
The last great name in the illustrious roll of Venetian masters was Giovanni
Battista Tiepolo, who was born in Venice, in 1696, and died in Madrid, in 1770.
His father, a ship captain and merchant of marine goods, left him a considerable
estate and he seems never to have experienced the vicissitudes that attend the
The sources of his early inspiration were
Titian and Paulo especially the latter, whom, however, he excelled
as a ceiling decorator, in which field he has never had a rival. The amount of
wall space he covered with his magnificent frescos is nothing short of
stupendous, besides altar-pieces, etchings and finished sketches for many of his
works. His ceiling frescos, where the subject is a secular one, show the same
striking arrangement of masses as do his religious compositions. Tiepolo nearly
always introduces a four-horse chariot in them, the spirited horses rearing and
careering across the vaults of the sky, showing his marvelous powers of
foreshortening. Although many of his finest frescos are to be found in the
churches of his native city, Tiepolo spent many years outside of Italy engaged
upon commissions for foreign potentates.
The last great honor paid him was to be called to Spain to decorate the Royal
Palace in Madrid for Charles III, who had lately ascended the throne.
Accompanied by his two sons and his model, Christina, he established a residence
in the Spanish capital in 1762, being allowed, in addition to the expenses of
the journey, 2000 rubles of gold a year and 500 ducats for a carriage.
Immediately upon his arrival at Madrid his health began to fail, and he made his
will and deposited it with the royal notary. He lived eight years longer,
however, superintending vast works for the Royal Palace, and is said to have
incurred the jealousy and hatred of Raphael Mengs, who had been Court Painter
under the preceding monarch.
No account of Tiepolo would be complete without mention of the two models who
appear so frequently in his pictures. Most important was the aforementioned
Christina, daughter of a Venetian gondolier, who accompanied the artist to Spain
and appears to have been a member of his household. "She had a rare perfection:
large and svelte, with a queenly carriage, an exquisite profile, oval face, eyes of a Circassian
- piquant, one could say, the neck of a swan, the hands of a patrician,
form supple and full." In fact, we read, Tiepolo never used any other
female model, and her image is to be found alike in the altar-piece and on the
vault of ducal palaces. She appears now as a saint, now as an historical
character, or again as a mythological personage. Tiepolo's other model was a
Moorish slave who was brought to Venice as a Corsair prisoner. The artist bought
him, instructed him in the Christian religion, to which he became a convert, and
used him as a model during ten of the most productive years of his industrious
Tiepolo seems to have amassed a considerable fortune. Of his gambling wife, who
does not appear to have accompanied him on his travels, an anecdote is told of
how one evening, having lost all the money she had brought with her, she rose to
go, when her opponent volunteered to play for the sketches in her husband's
studio. She played again, and lost. Again her wily opponent offered to play for
her country villa at Zianigo. A third time she lost; but fortunately her
businesslike son, who was absent from Venice at the time, returned home in time
to cancel her debt, but not without disposing of a large number of sketches by
the absent master.