Skip to main content

Tiepolo: The Master of Color

Artgate Fondazione Cariplo - Tiepolo Giambattista, Cacciatore a cavallo
Cacciatore a cavallo, 1718

Today is the 316th birthday of the Venetian master Rococo painter Giambattista Tiepolo, one of the last great painters of Italy's four hundred year heritage of Old Masters. It's interesting that Venice—once proud of its greats such as Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto—began to fall into a kind of artistic recession in the 1700's, losing out the spotlight to Rome and Bologna. What Tiepolo did was reinvent the ceiling fresco in a way that few artists were able to equal. And he did with an uncanny ability to take the best elements from his past and contemporaries and make it his own, working quickly and with a remarkable use of color that is highly underrated.




Apollo and Daphne, 1745
In the example above Tiepolo uses warm skin tones to contrast with the deep blues of the sky behind them. If we look closely we see Apollo's cloak is a fiery red, a symbol of passion and infatuation in this case, but look how Tiepolo metamorphosizes it into a pinkish yellow around Daphne, (almost mocking his sun god status) and her skin is clearly as cool as her indifference toward the sun god. In fact, her right foot seems to be kicking him in the groin as he attempts to grab her leg. Tiepolo's humour is worth smiling at here. Below the river god Peneus holds his oar nearly horizontal (a flaccid reference?), as if trying ignore the whole situation. Tiepolo's use of intense colors and effortless composition ties them all together. It's clear that he learned much from not only his Renaissance contemporaries but his twisting figures are a direct influence from Mannerism also.




Apollo and Daphne, 1755
In this later version of the same subject, Tiepolo chooses a dynamic composition, with a less dramatic sky, and this time Apollo is adorned in yellow, clearly indicating his positive sunshine status with a bright halo, or big head. Daphne is now turned away from us, facing him, and the red robe is now worn by Peneus, pointing downward underneath the jug spilling water on top of it, as if to underline the loss of passion. The oar is now on the ground. The lush green behind Apollo suggests nature and his honest intentions, pointing at Cupid who is hiding underneath the sheets.


These are just two brief examples from Tiepolo's vast work, but it shows how color can help to tell a story while revealing brilliant harmony. However, his use of monochrome pen-and-ink watercolor washes show a great understanding of chiaroscuro, as in these examples at the Met (zoomable at full-screen):

The Metropolitan Museum of Art - Beheading of Two Male Saints
The Metropolitan Museum of Art - The Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saint Sebastian and a Franciscan Saint
The Metropolitan Museum of Art - Standing Figure of a Youth


Here are also some of his oil sketches and other works:

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Popular posts from this blog

More Old Master Drawings

There is nothing in all the world more beautiful or significant of the laws of the universe than the nude human body.
Robert Henri








Charles Louis Müller, A Standing Female Nude Leaning Against an Arch, ca.1864

Once again I decided to talk about some Old Master drawings and delve into the thinking behind how these drawings may have been created and the knowledge of the artist. In the above drawing by Müller, done in sanguine with white chalk highlights, the figure is drawn from a low view-point, with her body twisting toward her left side while resting on one knee. Note how Müller alternates the bent right leg with the bent left arm to create dynamic contrast. The right arm is also foreshortened and partially in shadow. Expressing power and femininity, this is a study that is Renaissance in spirit, even Mannerist, revealing the female nude as sculptural yet always graceful.







Anton Raphael Mengs, Seated male nude viewed from the back, 1755

One of several Academic nude studies by Mengs, this …

Guercino il Magnifico

Self-Portrait of the Artist holding a Palette, ca.1635


Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as Guercino was born on February 8, 1591 in Cento, a small city near Ferrara. He is one of the great masters of the Italian Baroque and poet of painters. Noted for his speed and efficiency, Guercino also worked in a number of mediums with equal passion whether ink, chalk, charcoal, or oils. His nickname, which means 'little cross-eyes' in Italian, derives in part from an apocryphal childhood accident where he supposedly awoke from a deep sleep as a child from a loud scream that caused his eyes to cross. Another story says something was thrown into his eyes. At any rate, he was self-taught as an artist from as early as nine years old and by his early teens was discovered by the eldest of the Carracci where he would spend some time at the Accademia Degli Incamminati before venturing out on his own. Despite his apparent 'handicap', his vision and talent would make him a giant that few…

Old Master Drawings

Drawing is not the form; it is the way of seeing the form.
Degas



A male nude from behind, c.1630 Gian Lorenzo Bernini

In this blog I talk about painting but the importance of drawing cannot be understated of course, and I believe we can learn just as much from studying their techniques of line and strokes as we can from brushstrokes...more in most cases as the drawing is more expressive and intimate. It reveals the personality and character of the artist.

The above drawing apparently comes from the period of Bernini's teaching at the Accademia di San Luca in Rome, one of four from the exact same model. This drawing is fairly big for a study, at 55.6 x 42cm (21 x 16 inches). Consider Michelangelo's study for Libyan Sibyl, is only 28.9 x 21.4 cm (11 3/8 x 8 7/16 inches), a small study for a fresco which would be painted several times larger than life size. I can only guess that Bernini was teaching a big class and that maybe his work was on display for students to study, or it ma…