Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (variants of names – Gianbattista or Giambattista) – was a prominent artist of Italian rococo, master of frescos and engravings, last major representative of Venetian school of painting. He received his recognition again only in the 20th cent. Now Tiepolo is believed to be one of the greatest phenomenons of art of the Settecento.

Beginning of artistic career

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo was born on March 5, 1696, in Venice. His father, Domenico Tiepolo, small shipping merchant, died, when the boy was only a year old. After untimely death of father, Giovanni was sent training to an authoritative artist Gregorio Ladzarini, who taught him basis of monumental painting. At the same time he learnt from the heritage of the greatest Venetian masters – Titian, Tintoretto and especially Veronese. In 1716 20-years old artists reached his first success, exposing “The Sacrifice of Isaac” he made for Ospedaletto. A year later he left the apprenticeship in the Ladzarini’s workshop and soon married a sister of Francesco Guardi – Cecilia.

Early works: 1716 – 1734

Tiepolo’s first pieces are defined by restive forms, dark hues and contrast of chiaroscuro – the influence of his famous contemporary Giovanni Battista Piazetta. However, they also demonstrate such characteristic for his further oeuvre features as fantasy and monumentality, which are especially obvious in the cycle for the palazzo Dolfin (1725). Combining some traditions of Roman Baroque and unique feeling of coloring, typical for Venetian school, Giambattista managed to shape up his own style, grandiose and unconstrained at the same time, lush and elegant.

His frescos Palazzo Patriarcale in Udine are believed to be the high point of his early period: in 1726 the artist was commissioned to create decorations for some rooms of the building, mainly with the plots from the Old Testament. For instance, in the gallery or so-called “Pink room” the scene “The Judgment of Solomon”, surrounded by “Four Prophets”, was depicted on the ceiling.

Artistic maturity

In 1735 – 1750s Tiepolo’s paintings gradually gained freedom and expressiveness; their coloring was brightened and enriched with subtle nuances. The growth of his virtuosity is clearly seen in plafonds of such venetian churches I Gesuati (1737 – 1739) and Scalzi (1743 – 1744). In 1750s – 1760s Giovanni Battista was one of the most recognized masters – he worked a lot for foreign courts and was elected as a president of the Venetian academy of Fine Arts (1756 – 1758). At this time his best monumental serieses were executed in the Palazzo Labia in Venice (1747 – 1750), Residence of of the Archbishop of Wurzburg (1756 – 1758), on villa near Valmaran near Vicenza (1757), Palazzo Rezzonico in Venice (1758), marked by their sumptuousness, glowing colorite, based on silvery, red, yellow, pearl-grey, brown and blue tints.

Painting of the Ballroom (or Salone delle Feste) in Palazzo Labia is a true masterpiece of monumental art. There Tiepolo referred to the episodes from the story of ancient roman general Mark Anthony and Egyptian queen Cleopatra. This double height room is fully covered with frescos, some of which were rendered in cooperation with the persepctivist Girolamo Mengozzi Colonna. Walls of the placement were visually extended with illusionistic images of architectural elements organically mixed with true windows and doors. This way the artists created a multi-layered system of false spaces that imitated interior and exterior. Some scenes, like “Meeting of Marc Anthony and Cleopatra”, “The Banquet of Cleopatra”, were interlaced with those Trompe-l’œils, creating an impression of solemn theatrical splendor. A huge number of details from everyday life were essential part of Tiepolo’s artistic method, known for his wit and irony:servants, soldiers, musician and other personages are depicted very vividly.

Work outside of Venice

In 1750 Tiepolo received invitation to trim with frescos Kaisersaal (the imperial hall) in the residence of Prince-Bishop Karl Philipp Freiherr von Greiffenclau zu Vollraths, in Wurzburg, Franconia. His sons – 24-years old Domenico and 14-years old Lorenzo helped him with this order. Program of decorations in the hall included central ceiling fresco depicting an allegorical figure “The Genius Imperii”, towards whom Apollo is conducting the Burgundian bride, and two historical scenes that glorified Emperor Frederick Barbarossa – “The Marriage of the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa to Beatrice of Burgundy” and “The Investiture of Herold as Duke of Franconia by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa at the Imperial Diet in Würzburg in 1168”.

The Prince-bishop was truly satisfied with the result and invited the painter to make a plafond of the stairwell just in a year (1752). There, on the area of almost 650 square meters, Giovanni Battista placed a composition “Olympus and the Continents”: Olympic gods look like flying in the eternal space, surrounded by allegories of different parts of the world. Tiepolo revealed a unique imagination in showing the latters, dressing them in intricate clothing and adding numerous exotic attributes that created a needed atmosphere. For example, America is represented as a beautiful Indian woman, sitting on a crocodile. The crowded mundane world is opposed a pure space of the divine one.
In 1757 Tiepolo and his son Giandomenico left for Vicenza to make decorations for the villa Valmarana. Tiepolo was engaged with frescos in the entrance hall and four rooms on the first floor, Giandomenico – rooms for guests. They wanted to create a contrast between cheerful scenes of Giandomenico with peasants and merchants and noble tragic scenes of the father. Tiepolo chose subjects, borrowed from “Iliad” of Homer” (“Eurybates and Talthybios Lead Briseis to Agamemmon”), “Aeneid” of Virgil (“Venus Appearing to Aeneas on the Shores of Carthage”), “Orlando furioso” by Ariosto (“Angelica and Medoro with the Shepherds”) and “Jerusalem Delivered” by Torquato Tasso (“Rinaldo Abandoning Armida”).

In June 1762 Giambattista went to Madrid to start decoraction of the throne hall in Palazzo Reale Spanish King had commissioned him. His composition “Glory of Spain”, a sketch for which the painter had done in Venice, was meant to underline the importance of the country that had turned into one of the European leading states in the 16th – 17th cent. Despite its complicated multifigural structure and recondite senses, this work is considered Tiepolo’s lightest one, especially because of the attention to the large dome of the sky. Decoration of the throne hall was finished by 1764 and the King decided entrust him painting of several other rooms in the palace. Giovanni Batista didn’t return to Venice and died in Madrid on March 27, 1770.

Easel painting and graphic art

There’s a little number of easel paintings by Tiepolo comparing to the graphical works, collected by his friend Algarotti, or his monumental frescos. A lot of them were done in between time: because of the wet climate, the artist could work over the Wurzburg’s frescos only during spring and summer. So, Tiepolo made some oil paintings in autumn and winter. Some of his magnificent historical pieces (though, here the plot was only a background for eye-pleasing images) belong to the German period – “The Death of Hyacinthus” and “The Adoration of the Magi” were among them.

Tiepolo’s canvases of 1740s – 1750s strike with emotionality of personages and virtuosity of technique. The artist was surprisingly many-sided, trying his hand in various genres: from mythological painting (“The Empire of Flora”) and religious scenes (“The Virgin Appearing to Dominican Saints”, “The Martyrdom of St Agatha”, “Madonna of the Goldfinch”) to portraits (“Young Woman with a Macaw”).

Tiepolo was also an outstanding draughtsman, an author of audacious in their expressiveness (sometimes even grotesque) drawings and etchings. His “Varii Capricci” and “Scherzi di fantasia” is bizzare and fantastical “highly personal dream-world of fancy and musings”, as an art historian Micheal Levey characterized them.


Legacy of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo accomplished the development of Italian monumental painting of the 16th – 18th cent. His frescos and canvases, with their fathomless depth, vigorous dynamism, unexpected angles of view, transparency of colors and perfectness of aerial effects, belong to the treasury of the world culture. The painter masterly connected his compositions with interior, illusionary expanding the real space.

One of Tiepolo’s sons, Lorenzo (1736 – 1776) stayed in Madrid after father’s death and continued his rocaille stylistic, whether the second one, Giovanni Domenico (1727 – 1804) returned to Venice. His style is more restrained and close to neoclassicism.

It’s widely known that Francoise Boucher absorbed a lot of features from the works of Tiepolo. Besides, Fragonard during his early years expressed his infatuation with the legacy of prominent Venetian up to that “wished to become him”. This way Giovanni Battista Tiepolo can be considered a uniting element between Baroque and Rococo.