William Barcham: “Tiepolo’s Milanese Frescoes”

William Barcham: “Tiepolo’s Milanese Frescoes”


– Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Xavier Salomon, I’m the
Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator at The Frick Collection and I would like to welcome
you all this evening for our last lecture
linked to the exhibition “Tiepolo in Milan: The Lost
Frescoes of Palazzo Archinto” which I co-curated with two
Italian colleagues and friends, Professor Andrea Tomezzoli
at the University of Padua and Dr. Denis Ton at the
Musei Civici in Belluno. It is a great honor for me tonight to welcome one of the great experts on Gianbattista Tiepolo in this country, in the the world,
Professor William Barcham. He received his doctoral
degree here in New York at the Institute of Fine Arts where he studied Venetian art and culture, an interest of his which has carried on throughout his career,
several last decades. He’s written a long series of articles and exhibition essays,
too long to list tonight. But I will talk a little
bit about his books which are focused on
several Venetian subjects from the imaginary views of Canaletto to books focusing on the
art of Tiepolo himself and, of course, he is the
author of the seminal book “The Religious Paintings
of Giambattista Tiepolo: Piety and Tradition in
Eighteenth-century Venice” which was published in 1989 and is still the key work on religious
Tiepolo to this day. More recently, after a
fellowship at the Morgan Library, he’s also published a more, sort of directly related to the talk tonight, a book on “Tiepolo’s
Pictorial Imagination: The Drawings for Palazzo Clerici” and tonight Professor
Barcham is talking indeed about Tiepolo’s work in Milan. His work has also
focused on other subjects including a biography of Federico Cornaro, who was Gianlorenzo Bernini’s
patron for the celebrated Cornaro Chapel in Santa
Maria della Vittoria in Rome. He has been the recipient
of many grants and awards from the Metropolitan Museum,
from the Delmas Foundation, The American Council of Learned Societies, The American Philosophical Society, National Endowment for the Humanities, and between 1988 and
’99 he was also a fellow at the American Academy in Rome. Over the last years, together
with Professor Puglisi of Rutgers, the state
university of New Jersey, they’ve been studying together
a rather fascinating topic, the figure of the Man of
Sorrows in Venetian art across the centuries in the modern period, which is an enterprise
that has brought them all the way back to the Middle Ages and both of them are experts, of course, in 17th/18th Century art so this has been a far-reaching research. And an exhibition was co-curated at the Museum of Biblical
Art here in New York in 2011 with a wonderful accompanying catalog. But the book on the subject, which will no doubt be a fascinating and wonderful contribution
to the study of Venetian art, is expected to be
published later this year. Professor Barcham more
recently, between 2014 and ’16 has taught at the University of Venice on Venetian 18th Century art. And tonight he will be talking to us about Tiepolo’s Milanese frescoes. So, not only about Palazzo Archinto but also about other
palaces and enterprises from around that time
and in the same city. At this point, I would
like to remind you all to turn your phones off,
the lecture will be recorded and will be available on our website. And, finally, the
exhibition which is on here at The Frick ’til July
14th, will be open tonight for viewing for about half
an hour after the lecture. So please join me in welcoming
Professor William Barcham. (audience applauding) – Thank you, Xavier, for that very generous
and kind introduction and, of course, for inviting
me here to speak this evening. You see here one of the
few surviving fragments of the fresco of the Palazzo Archinto which is dated 1731. And as many of you, most
of us, are Americans, I would just like to point out that George Washington was
born the next year in 1732 and that it is very
likely, given the timing, that he was conceived (laughs) while Tiepolo was working
in Milan on these frescoes. In a recent issue of “The
New Yorker” magazine, Peter Schjeldahl wrote that “Many find Tiepolo,” I
quote, “hard to appreciate.” Does he, Schjeldahl, or do any
of you belong to that group? The crowds in the room at the top of the Grand Staircase at the Met insist that much of the public is actually absorbed by his art. And this talk is aimed at
those who appreciate his art and who may want to know more. Now before tracing, what I have called, Tiepolo’s giant footsteps in Milan, that is his three fresco cycles in palaces in the Lombard capital, it’s necessary to think for a moment about where those steps are imprinted. They’re in a world that is not
what we think it is, or was, nor is it one, a world,
that we’re accustomed to. First, Milan, obviously, is not Venice. But in taking for granted that Tiepolo was Venetian, and therefor Italian, we cannot take for granted
that Milan and Venice were Italian cities as we know them today. In the 18th century, we’re
still in pre-unification Italy when Venice was a millennia
old independent republic. Its government ruling, not just the city, lands on the mainland
west and north of the city and islands in the Adriatic. When Tiepolo left Venice
to paint in Milan in 1730 he was not just traveling
westward across north Italy, he was actually crossing
into another state where a Venetian emissary
was in residence. Just an interesting fact
that Venice had ambassadors in cities that were capitals
of independent states. They did not send ambassadors
to Milan or to Naples because Milan belonged to Austria and Naples belonged to Spain. So the ambassadors there
were not ambassadors, they were called residents
and they ranked much lower. This foreign state in Milan, part of the Austrian-Hungarian
Hapsburg Empire, had frontiers that bordered Venice twice. On the west, Milan itself, and on the north, leading
to Vienna, the capital city. This is the Veneto, which mainly was the central part of the Venetian Republic, and you can see the regions
on the map on the right. Milan had lost its independence as a city in the 16th century and essays in the exhibition
catalog make that clear. And it became part of Spain. But in the early 18th century
it fell to the Austrian crown. While Venetians knew that their government ruled from the ducal palace in the city, the Milanese understood that a governor sent by the emperor in distant
Vienna administered them. Venetians spoke, and still
speak today, a dialect not always comprehensible
elsewhere on the peninsula. Milanese, too, spoke their own dialect, neither Italian, nor, obviously, Venetian. But their rulers spoke German or Spanish. And, to complicate issues
of civic patriotism further, although all Milanese families owed allegiance to the Hapsburg crown in the decade under discussion
this evening, ’30 to ’40, these same families, two decades earlier, owed allegiance to Spain. But Venetians had been Venetians seemingly since time immemorial. So, to appreciate
Tiepolo’s Milanese frescoes we have to keep in mind
that he worked in the city for an urban nobility whose members knew, and sometimes were related,
and visited each other but who owed allegiance
to a foreign power. Furthermore, we are
entering a world culturally, as you obviously would understand,
very different from ours. And with that I am
referring to the allegories and mythologies Tiepolo represented in his three Milanese fresco cycles. Do we understand why these subjects and themes occupy so much of his art and why his patrons were
so preoccupied with them? They were, in effect, behavioral goals. Certainly the allegories were. Ideals of behavior, standards for action, and they point to moral or ethical values. The principal allegory in
this painting at the Met is Valor, the man sitting in the center, speaks for itself, I
think, as does Fame, above, but are we sure, in today’s
world, what Nobility connotes? Prudence, Abundance, and Truth. Although at the compositional
center of Tiepolo’s painting, truth today is rather marginal,
not essential, a variable. Of course, Tiepolo’s patrons didn’t always live up to these principles either. But they implicitly accepted them as paradigms befitting noble behavior. What about the gods of mythology? Well, even the 18th century
knew the ancient deities belonged to a long-gone culture. Witness Tiepolo’s own “Jupiter and Danae” painted in 1736 after he had already painted two palaces in Milan. Jupiter, or Jove, here is a comic figure, old and hoary and apparently breathless. Is he really able to seduce Danae, which is what the myth narrates? Certainly, Danae is not very interested in the ungainly old fellow. And their encounter humorously plays against the stand-off between
her feisty yelping terrier and Jupiter’s screeching eagle. But in the Clerici Palace in
1740 in Milan, on your left, Jupiter is vigilant and
reigns high in the clouds. In fact, that’s the point here and in Tiepolo’s other Milanese ceilings. His imagination was
celestial and his figures hover and fly in the firmament. His protagonists belong to eternity and they are perpetual lodestars
for principled behavior. These are the dominions our
painter’s Milanese patrons believed should not only
ornament their public rooms, they also defined what nobles
deemed worthy and aspired to. Now, Tiepolo is up to the job, as we say. The exhibition catalog makes clear that he began this kind of work early on. Here is a fresco, that
is the room is frescoed, he painted it aged 23 in a private villa on
the Venetian mainland, a story taken from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”, one of the classical texts
that Italian and other painters and their patrons turned
to again and again. Tiepolo’s teacher, Gregorio Lazzarini, had trained him in this tradition. Lazzarini is little known or valued outside of Venice today but he spent much of his career depicting such mythological
and historical scenes. His late 17th and early 18th century art is boldly rhetorical and,
no matter the subject, he turned to ancient art for his ideas. The so-called “Torso Belvedere”
in the Vatican Museums, one of the most famous of
Ancient Greek fragments, served him as a model for the young Isaac of the Jewish Bible. And look at how faithful, yet how clever, a student Tiepolo was. His Isaac is recognizably a
restatement of Lazzarini’s but he was a very different
painter from his teacher. Tiepolo painted this fresco on the ceiling of the gallery of the
archbishop’s palace in Undine, and this is a slide of
pieces pieced together so you see the seams from
one image to another. Udine is on historically
Venetian territory. You can see it in the center
of the slide on your right. But at the time that Tiepolo was painting, the Austrian crown, Vienna,
claimed the territory and the Emperor challenging Venice was Charles VI, on your left. The same man who was governing Milan where Tiepolo worked in the 1730s. Tiepolo’s frescoes in Udine,
and here is the gallery, top, with “The Sacrifice of Isaac” below, employs stories of the
Jewish Bible to register a protest against Charles VI’s
territorial claims to Udine. Now, why is the pertinent to Milan? So, a little introduction. Well, it’s pertinent for two reasons. First, painters like Tiepolo often used mythological, allegorical
or Hebraic themes to refer to a then current
geopolitical circumstance. And, here, the Jewish stories
are rhetorical language conveying an underlying political subtext. Tiepolo’s frescoes, in
both Udine and Milan, must be read on multiple levels. They are not merely
complicated tales for us today told to decorate splendid interiors. Tiepolo’s work in Udine is relevant to Milan, too, for a second reason. One that is paradoxical, I think, because if while frescoing
in Udine he was voicing Venetian protests against imperial political pretensions
emanating from Vienna, what were his thoughts in
Milan when he was obliged to serve the local
nobility serving Vienna. To put it precisely, in Udine Tiepolo’s frescoes
remonstrated against Charles VI but, in Milan, they support Charles VI. Like Michelangelo, Leonardo,
Rubens and Bernini before him, Tiepolo dutifully responded
to his patron’s needs. His private thoughts, however,
were just that, private and we are rarely privy to them. The archbishop who commissioned
the frescoes in Udine belonged to the Venetian Dolfin family, written more or less
like dolphin, with an F. Another member of the same family hired Tiepolo to paint a remarkable series of Ancient Roman stories
for his palace in Venice, and you know some of those paintings because they are at the top of the Grand Staircase at
the Metropolitan Museum. And this cycle is our
easy gateway to Milan for Tiepolo completed these
giant canvasses in 1729, just before he left Venice for
Charles VI’s Lombard capital. The ancient narratives
articulate civic, moral, heroic deeds focusing on ethical choices, physical courage, altruism and leadership, all themes the Dolfin family
of Venice employed in two ways, to articulate the moral
history of the family itself and to offer principles to which future generations must adhere. Now, because the paintings
ornamented the salone, or principal hall of the palace, they self-advertise the family before friends, guests and compatriots. And here I’ve photoshopped two of the paintings onto the mirrors, the mirrors now replace the paintings and this is the principal
hall, the reception hall, in what was then Palazzo
Dolfin, which is that building is now the central seat of
the University of Venice. As the stories of these
paintings are Roman, their themes were considered everlasting, voicing heroic valor for
early modern society. Trained in a language that
was dramatic and rhetorical, some might even say hyperbolic, Tiepolo used that language,
however, with refinement, charm and couched it amidst erudite
archeological references, which is exactly what he did in Milan. Now, here is a city plan of Milan. Those of you who know the city, the train station in German
is up at the very top, the Duomo, or the cathedral,
is towards the bottom, both encircled in purple, the
sites of his three palaces, the Palazzo Archinto in red at the bottom. Tiepolo arrived at the city at age 34 to undertake a massive
commission for Carlo Archinto who was a learned nobleman
loyal to the Hapsburg court, which is the subject of this exhibition. But, a few years earlier,
Archinto had been in invested with the Order of the
Golden Fleece in 1700 and named Grande of Spain
just before Spain lost Milan. Archinto did not protest
foreign domination of the city but facilitated and supported it, switching from Spain to Vienna
as the situation needed. Here is his palace then and today, but what stands now is a reconstruction as Allied bombing destroyed
the building in August 1943. And let’s remember that even Leonardo’s not so distant “Last
Supper” was vulnerable. You see it on the right,
prepared for bombing and, on the left, after bombing. And it was saved because extraordinary precautions had been taken but also because no bomb landed directly on the refectory as it
did on Palazzo Archinto. The Allies were aiming at
the nearby train station, not the central train station but the one on the upper left in, I don’t know if that’s black or purple, I don’t remember, the Cadorna Station which brings commuters
in and out of the city. You can see the site of the
Leonardo fresco to your left and more or less the circle at the bottom is where the Palazzo Archinto is. Tiepolo’s five ceilings were destroyed in the blink of an eye as a
bomb hit the palace directly. Each was in a separate
room and they all depicted mythological stories
and allegorical themes. Now, I hardly need repeat the excellent explanations of the cycle in the essays by Xavier Salomon
and Denis Ton in the catalog but several points are worth emphasizing. At least two of the ceilings refer to the marriage of
Archinto’s son, Filippo, with Giulia Borromeo on April 22nd 1731. 1731, the date that’s
inscribed on the fresco. The first of the two was
“Perseus and Andromeda” whose oil sketch graces
The Frick Collection here and was, in effect, the trigger
for the current exhibition. Now, if ever there was a fraught but finally successful
marriage, it’s this one. Jealous of Andromeda’s beauty, a group of sea nymphs, the Nereids, complained to the god, Poseidon,
who then flooded the land. Andromeda’s father, the King of Aethiopia, learned that the only
way to save his daughter was to chain her to a
rock above water level. And, though a monster would threaten her, the waters would eventually descend. Now, by happy coincidence, Perseus was passing by after having killed Medusa, and he fell in love with
Andromeda at first sight. He killed the monster,
married the princess with her father’s consent,
and they had seven children. Now, I point out several aspects in Tiepolo’s work to pay attention. First, he was, as always,
a terrific storyteller. The narrative unfolding along a zigzagging diagonal composition. The sea monster at bottom right, the jealous Nereids to the left, the bridal couple soaring freely through the heavens after
Andromeda’s release, and the parents beseeching Jupiter who solves all predicaments. But note how, comparing the sketch with the destroyed fresco, how at this point in his career, 1730, Tiepolo closely hewed to his oil sketch when transferring his
ideas onto a ceiling. He did add Andromeda’s
father to the story, he is central, he doesn’t
appear in the oil sketch, but also pay attention
to how Tiepolo freed Perseus and Andromeda in their flight, the horse’s rear legs are seen
against the rock on the right and against the heavens on the left which completely must have changed the sense of the movement in the fresco. Many of the individual elements
nonetheless remain the same. The Nereids, for instance,
except for one change. But sky and space increase, as do the distances between the groups. As for the colors, well, sadly, there are no color photos
of the frescoes themselves but I think we can assume that
the colors of the frescoes more or less followed
those of the sketches. The second of the two nuptial ceilings referencing the approaching marriage, portrays Juno, Venus and
Fortune as an allegory. Juno, of course, was
the goddess of marriage. I’ve pointed them out in blue. Venus, of course, of love and beauty. And Fortune, or Fortuna,
her back turned to us, sits on a wheel, the Wheel of Fortune. She represents neither
wealth nor opulence, as our English word implies,
although, of course, these two families getting
married were very wealthy, but rather providence and destiny. The figure to the right,
circled in yellow, is Zephyr, the springtime wind, who, crowning the two families’ coats of arms, is the same wind allegory
that Tiepolo painted for a Venetian family for another
marriage a few years later. And I’m pointing out this
ceiling on your right for a very specific reason, in a moment. In Venice, Tiepolo painted the figure not in fresco but in oil on
canvass set into a ceiling. And, of course, in both instances, Zephyr, the spring wind, gives
voice to what sincere people hope for in marriage, a benevolent future. Now, Tiepolo worked up
his ideas and compositions for these paintings in two ways, through study and artistic practice. His study sometimes departed
from the usual channels and that’s why I’ve showed you this slide. For example, Zephyr’s wings
reproduce actual dragonfly wings showing, what are called, eyespots. And the species he
depicted, the Pseudimares, exists only, today at least,
in Morocco and in Iran. I am not an entomologist,
ladies and gentlemen. This was pointed out
to me several years ago in a wonderful email with an article, I can send the article
to anybody who wants it, by a professor, an entomologist, in Italy, Roberto Pantaleone, he
deserves credit for this. Now, did this rare
creature once fly in Italy? I believe, I have to assume, that Tiepolo saw the dragonfly in Archinto’s palace. We know that the Milanese
nobleman was erudite. He was interested in the sciences and in natural history too. He had to have had a
collection of rare fauna. Someone surely did because
I don’t think any of us can envision Tiepolo, net
in hand, chasing a dragonfly and then pinning the creature down. Certainly not in the
centers of Milan or Venice. Tiepolo’s study also
comprised two standard manuals that he mined for some of his imagery. Here are the title pages, Vincenzo Cartari’s on your
right, “Imagini de I Dei” and, on your left, Cesare
Ripa’s “Iconologia” with images and elucidations
of the gods and allegories. And here, on the right,
is a simple wood cut from Ripa’s book for the
allegory of Liberality. It also carries a text in the book. I chose her among the hundreds available because she is the central
protagonist on the next fresco commission for Milan
in the Palazzo Casati. The fresco that Tiepolo began immediately upon finishing his work for Archinto. Note that Tiepolo has
paraphrased Liberality, he rarely copied these images directly. Rather than holding two cornucopias, a single horn of plenty falls in space, coins and other
paraphernalia fall from it. Prudence and Magnanimity
sit on either side of her and, as you will see in a moment, Fame trumpets her renown far above. And we shall return to
this eagle on the left because, strange as it might seem to you, a Milanese eagle is not a Venetian eagle. Tiepolo’s second Milanese, and
here is the entire ceiling. I should point out to you that the Palazzo Archinto is destroyed, the Palazzo Casati and Clerici
are not open to the public, you need special permission to see them, although it is easier, I think, to see the Palazzo Clerici
than the Palazzo Casati. Unlike Archinto, Casati was born poor. In fact, he was a tavern laborer and a sometime peddler of dried fish. So how did he get to (laughs)
do this, pay for this? Well, he worked his way up. He became a wealthy merchant
and, finally, and this was key, he served the imperial
Hapsburg administration as a bureaucrat collecting taxes on the importation of goods
in and out of the city. So, every time goods went in
and out of a gate in Milan, one has to assume Casati got something. Particularly in the 18th
century when the importation of tobacco became a
major commercial success. In the late 1720s, before
Tiepolo painted this, Emperor Charles VI, that
same emperor, ennobled Casati as a count and the Hapsburg
edict in the Viennese archives refers to the new count’s
virtues, his feats and labors and his ascent to, what
is called, imperial glory. Following tradition, the
count was obligated to procure feudal rights in the countryside,
which he did in 1730, so he was now not just
wealthy, he was now a count, and he also purchased land
and houses in the city, now you see it at the top,
on what is today’s Via Manin. He restructured the existing
buildings into a grand palace, the red line on the left is
what you see on the right, and he raised the salone,
the principal hall, to the height of 40 feet. Now, 40 feet, at that time, was the highest interior
space in the entire city. So, I’m not talking about
cathedrals and churches, but the highest private
interior space in the city. Given the increased height of the salone, Casati asked Tiepolo to fresco three Roman stories
along the upper balcony, and you can see two of them
on your right and your left. Here is the one you cannot see. And to get some idea of the
size, these are frescoes, I forget the word now, frescoes now applied to canvass but you can see the size of
it by looking at the restorers who are putting it back into place. And these are the other two. Because of Casati’s rags to
riches story under Charles VI, the man owed the emperor a great deal and it is not coincidental
that the eagle of Liberality, so strikingly portrayed in the fresco, evokes here the Hapsburg
eagle, imperial Liberality. So a Milanese eagle had availence or value that it did not have in Venice. No Venetian patrician would
have thought of an eagle as an imperial or Hapsburg eagle. It was simply an eagle. If it was Jupiter’s
eagle, it was his symbol. In this context, let us remember that Tiepolo is the same man
who, only five years earlier, had given voice to a cycle
of paintings in Udine protesting Charles’ imperial ambitions. Indeed, using stories from no
less a book than the Bible, to demonstrate, unequivocally,
that Charles was aggressive and was encroaching upon Venetian
sovereignty and tradition. Now, did Tiepolo’s art change artistically from one year to the next as he moved across town from one palace to the other? Now, our answer, sadly, has
to depend upon a comparison between destroyed ceilings
and one that still exists, between photos held in the hand and a view of the Casati fresco overhead. First, let’s remember that the Casati fresco
is 40 feet overhead. So far away that details are difficult to read from below but also distant enough that the entire ceiling
can be viewed at once. And I think one thing you learn, or at least I certainly learned, when you spend a lifetime studying Tiepolo is that he adapted his art
to each venue he worked in. No two interiors are alike. No two ceilings are at the same distance. No two rooms have the
same doors in and out. No two rooms demand of the viewer down below the same viewpoint. And, of course, no two
patrons wanted the same thing. Now, we don’t know the
height of the several rooms in Palazzo Archinto
but they surely varied. Yet, if we ask the question
regarding change again, we note that whereas the
coved vault on the left. So, excuse me if I say this, you all know what a coved vault is? The walls go up, the ceiling is flat and the coved vault is the part
that curves up in both cases connecting the plumb walls
with the flat ceiling. So the cove of the vault on the left was decorated with surface ornamentation. That is, is was just meant to look like feigned grillwork
and elegant reliefs. Whereas, the Casati vault on the right was transformed into architecture so that the illusionistic heavens
beyond seem far far distant. The figures on the right
seem almost inaccessible. Surely much more remote
than those on the left. The Archinto sky on the
left seems pressed close to the oval that surrounds it. But the Casati heavens, on the right, appear to surge away from their opening. How else did Tiepolo’s art change? These two images reveal that, this is only a difference
of one year or so, that space or void becomes as important as the solids in the composition. Clusters of figures take
up one half of the painting at the left, whereas in
the painting on the right, the allegories are
barely tethered in space. Of course, one is a mythology
and the other is an allegory, humans are conditioned by gravity, on the right they are on clouds,
the gods and the allegories but there is a decided shift
away from heft to airiness. And, if we look at one of
the frescoes destroyed, on the right, two sides of it, we see architecture within the painting, not leading up to the
painting, within the painting, yoking or weighing the image downwards. Whereas, in the painting
in the Palazzo Casati, the architecture pushes the ceiling away. And I have to say, too,
that in this period Tiepolo continued to learn to embolden
his figural foreshortening. Often doing so in a lighthearted manner. For instance, two fractional
legs and a forearm angled on the imaginary bolding abbreviate an entire human being or an
entire person of some kind so that just as one figure,
on your bottom right on the right side, falls
towards us another, at left, tips backwards and away from us. So they sort of balance or set each other. Now, unlike the Archinto ceilings, the Casati fresco lacks
any surviving oil sketch. We know of no oil sketch. Nor is it unquestionably
associated with any drawing. Yet, two remarkable drawings
exist that I and a colleague, Anthony Panzera, have written about, linking them to the Casati fresco. So, this is a hypothesis, I believe in it but maybe not everybody does. I’ll show you the two drawings briefly, one belongs to the
Museo Horne in Florence, which is just behind the Uffizi, and the other is here in New
York in The Morgan Library. The same subject on a
slightly larger piece of paper and adds this remarkable
architectural surround that replete with sculpture
figures and little Amorini fictively rises many feet towards the sky. Now, while examining this sheet
in the Morgan’s study room, we discovered that it
has ten tiny pinpricks. Not holes accidentally
torn across the centuries but holes creating a precise plan determining the opening to the sky which has been rounded at the four corners to create an elegantly
shaped architectural frame. But that is not all. Every straight architectural
line in the fictive system leads to a vanishing point
and there are three of them. Now, what does one make of all this? How do we interpret the holes in the grid? Why was this very
complicated system created? Well, given the finished
quality of the drawing and its grid, we have to conclude that the sheet responded
to a specific commission. Tiepolo didn’t do this for fun. Either the patron withdrew
or the plans changed. So it is our thesis, my colleague’s and I, I will not try to convince you here, that this drawing was transformed,
for many reasons, into the Casati ceiling in Milan. It is essential to remember
that he had the ceiling altered. Now, before we look at the last ceiling, the Clerici ceiling, I will emphasize what we have so far seen
regarding the first two ceilings. Tiepolo traveled abroad to work for a foreigner under a foreign emperor. He used a pictorial language reserved for ambitious ideas and noble ideals. He produced drawings and sketches for approval by his patrons. He painted in fresco, a
quasi-permanent technique employed in Italy for centuries and whose most famous exponent, of course, among most of us, was Michelangelo. He collaborated on both
ceilings with other artists, specialists in architectural structures, what is called (speaks
in foreign language) coming from the Italian word
(speaks in foreign language). And, finally, Tiepolo climbed
scaffolding every day to work, 40 feet at the Casati Palace, he spent hours with his neck craned, climbed down in the evening, his face and clothes
soiled from dripping paint, and he did this for half a century. He left Milan in 1732 but
returned five years later in ’37 to fresco a chapel in the venerable Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, Saint Ambrose, the church dedicated to
the patron saint of Milan. And some of you may know, of course, that the La Scala opera house
opens its season each year on the feast day of Saint
Ambrose, December 7th. Now, the canon at Sant’Ambrogio. Now here I have a genealogical tree that I hope clarifies, I
hope it doesn’t confuse, the canon at Sant’Ambrogio, on your right, was Carlo Clerici, an older cousin to
Antonio Giorgio Clerici, who was Carlo Archinto’s grandson. So we have the first patron at the top. He and his wife had a
daughter, Maria Archinto, she married Carlo Giorgio Clerici and their son became
Tiepolo’s third patron. So, Casati is not here. So when Tiepolo came back in ’37 to fresco in Sant’Ambrogio,
he met Carlo Clerici. Now, why is this important? Well, obviously, at the
time that he met him Clerici married, the
younger Clerici married and he began to restructure and
modernize the family palace. In other words, a network of elite family ties provides the background to Antonio Giorgio’s
decision to hire Tiepolo. The final trigger for this was Antonio Giorgio,
the man at the bottom, his admission into the nobility in 1739. In other words, he was very very wealthy, in fact, one of the
wealthiest families in Milan, but he was not a nobleman. But in 1739 he was
ennobled by, who else but, the daughter of Emperor Charles VI, and who was the daughter
arriving in Milan at this time? The future Empress Maria Theresa. So, as in the case with Casati, ennoblement and recognition by Vienna prompted Clerici to hire Tiepolo, the man who had already
frescoed five ceilings in his grandfather’s palace across town. Now, war has deprived us
of the Archinto ceilings but we have photographs and oil sketches. The Casati ceiling has
survived, no sketches, and two drawings that
are provisionally linked. The Clerici ceiling has happily endured, it’s in very good state, it can be linked with almost a hundred surviving drawings, a magnificent oil sketch,
and a laudatory poem published the year of
its completion, 1740. Now, I have just recently
uncovered evidence that May of that year, 1740,
before Tiepolo went to Milan to fresco in the Clerici ceiling, Marchese Clerici visited
Venice to participate in two regattas in the spring of 1740. One celebrating the annual
Feast of the Ascension and the other marking, so Palazzo Clerici is the middle one, marking the arrival,
oh, sorry, I’m skipping. This is the Palazzo Clerici on your right, it is now part of the University of Milan. So, the arrival in 1739
of Friedrich Christian, Prince of Saxony and
future King of Poland. And on May, I think it was, 3rd, 1740, a grand magnificent regatta
was thrown in his honor and we know that Clerici contributed, paid for, funded boats
for the two regattas. The one of Ascension Day and the one celebrating
Friedrich Christian. We don’t know what those boats
looked like but we do have, and if any of you have loose
change in your pockets, Tiepolo’s remarkable drawing for a Venetian boat in
one of the regattas, a drawing now on sale in a London gallery. I urge any of you who have the
several millions to buy it. It’s a very large drawing
and a magnificent drawing. So it is very likely that while
in Venice for these regattas Clerici viewed Tiepolo’s oil sketch for the fresco to be painted
in his palace in Milan. Yet upon arriving, and here
is the oil sketch in Texas, yet upon arriving in the city, Tiepolo did not reproduce
this composition, either because Clerici did not okay it, or, more likely, I suspect, because Tiepolo himself
realized that it wouldn’t work. Why? Because, once in the palace, he realized that the proportions of the
ceiling he had to fresco would not work with
those of the oil sketch. So, a moment of concentration, the ceiling is four times
longer than it is wide. But the oil sketch is only three times longer than it is wide. So you simply cannot impose a design where the ratio is different
from the final surface that it was going to be painted. The gallery is very long, 73 feet long. Almost as long as, what is termed, a short olympic swimming pool. There is no way, more over,
that the figure of Apollo, let’s go back one, here,
could have been seen from the principal
entryway into the gallery. He would have been too far
away, almost 35 feet away, particularly because the ceiling is 26 feet from the floor,
not 40 feet from the floor. So, whereas Tiepolo, and here’s, I think, a major change in his
art across the decade, repeated his Boceto almost
verbatim in the Archinto fresco. Yeah, so here is a sketch downstairs and the destroyed ceiling on our right. He drastically altered his oil sketch for the Clerici palace a decade later. His approached changed remarkably. He was also a very keen man. He even planned the new Clerici ceiling so that parts of it could be
seen from the courtyard below. The slide on the left isolates the five windows of the gallery and the red rectangle on the right shows you the ground plan
of the gallery itself. If you stand in the courtyard
with the shutters open you can even see parts of the fresco. Although he changed the composition, he retained many of its figures. Playing them across an elongated surface as if they emerge from an unfurled scroll. Now, a slide like this,
ladies and gentlemen, is taken by a camera on a flat table that slowly moves across
under the ceiling. I don’t know how it works, but it’s not, the human eye cannot see
the ceiling like this and the photographic lens cannot either, so this is a miracle
of modern photography. We have Mercury on the
right looming in and out, we have Apollo, now on a
chariot, and we have Jupiter, Venus and Saturn occupying
half the ceiling. Can we imagine the creative process involved in this great
pictorial orchestration? Tiepolo drew no fewer than
seven variations for Apollo and these are the only ones
that apparently survive. The oil sketch follows one of the ideas, this is a drawing in Washington,
but the fresco does not, as you can see, even from this close-up. Mercury began hovering above
a river god in the drawing, then he stood still on the
oil sketch, then, finally, he soars, almost balletically,
one might say, in the fresco. As I said, Tiepolo had to
reconceive his composition to a surface whose length
is four times its width. He fictively covered the
entrances into the gallery, inserting feigned architectural vaults that, richly ornamented with garlands, fruits and flowers, propel us inward. At this point, he invented one figure that he had never drawn, that he had never painted
on the oil sketch, and that is, you can see
two on each side, satyrs. In preparation, he drew satyrs
more than two dozen times. And these are some of those that survive. They sit in pairs, each is
different from the others, they are male and female, they
move in many different ways and they snicker and grimace. And I suppose my favorite
is this really foul fellow, now in the Princeton
University art gallery. And we can compare this drawing with an Archinto sheet downstairs to see Tiepolo’s dramatic change in drawing technique across the decade. Bold figures in rich washes bleeding, as it were, from shadow
into light and, of course, the sunlight is the
actual white of the paper. Another figure new to the fresco, no drawing for it, not on the sketch, is this nasty grimacing
dwarf at one of the two ends. No drawing is known for him at all. And with a touch of bizarre humor, Tiepolo had a lot of bizarre humor, Tiepolo gave him a pet, leashing
the poor monkey by chain. Now, the dwarf is painted, he’s fresco, the monkey, however, is projecting
three-dimensional stucco and the chain is a real chain. It hangs and you can buy
it in a hardware store. Among the numerous other figures to appear on the Clerici ceiling, some remained almost identical from the beginning to the end, from the drawings to the oil
sketch and to the fresco. This female, for example, apparently changes little from the
sheet to the fresco. On the fresco, she’s an allegory of night. Note the bat fleeing from
Apollo’s sun chariot. But on the drawing, she is not night, she’s another figure altogether. So she looks the same but
she’s a different figure. This allegorical river god and his nymph alter from one medium to
the other almost not at all. But note that Tiepolo turned and dirtied the sole of his foot
on the fresco in blue. Another touch of humor because, obviously, the river god muddied his
foot in the riverbank. Now, we’ve seen that Apollo and Mercury alter drastically from
one phase to another. Bacchus, too, here are
three drawings for Bacchus. Here’s Bacchus on the oil
sketch, on the far left, and here’s jolly old Bacchus
in the fresco, on the right. But in the numerous adjustments marking Tiepolo’s creative process, the greatest change,
I think, impacted upon the trio of Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. They occupy one half of the vault, forming a powerfully descending trio. Saturn’s wing tip, you can see it, Saturn’s wing tip and the
wheel of Venus’s chariot acting as connective filaments to the other half of
the very long ceiling. Now, where is this trio on the oil sketch? Well, they’re all there
but they’re not together. Occupying, instead, different
halves of the canvas. So this is the same oil
sketch but two different ends. Venus is with Mars, her
lover, not with Saturn. On this drawing, clearly when Tiepolo
decided he wanted Saturn, he gave the grand reaper
an hourglass, bottom left. The hourglass disappears on the fresco. Venus, herself, is a beauty and is swathed in opulent
drapery, surrounded by lovebirds, while Amorini fly about
and nearby roses in stucco, along the corners, perfume the air. Now I bring back an image
that I showed you earlier. The Casati ceiling again with the eagle. This Hapsburg logo had to
appear in a Milanese context. And the eagle appeared everywhere where patriotic imperial
citizens and noblemen lived. Even, as I saw it two weeks ago in Brussels, on a Hanukkah menorah. In 1739, as I mentioned earlier, the newlywed Princess
Maria Theresa visited Milan as heiress presumptive to
her father’s Hapsburg throne and Clerici was ennobled. Neither the Austrian princess
nor the Milanese nobleman nor Tiepolo knew beforehand, of course, that Emperor Charles VI
would die in October 1740 just as Tiepolo finished the fresco. I’m not saying that Venus
looks like Maria Theresa, I’m just pitting all
these beauties together. The emperor’s death had been
taken for granted for decades. Because, in 1720, Charles
had no surviving sons and, in order to have his
daughter Maria Theresa recognized, he overturned, what is called, Salic Law. That is with an edict called
the Pragmatic Sanction. That Maria Theresa could succeed him despite that Salic Law forbade the succession of female offspring. Tiepolo’s brilliant idea to exalt Venus while Apollo opens a new day on the right, to make her and the chariot of the sun the two focal points of the fresco, and to turn Saturn, the grand
reaper, as I called him, away from the goddess, so that
time does not threaten her, leaves little doubt that
Clerici and his painter are hailing a continued and
benevolent Hapsburg reign. Is it really difficult to
appreciate Tiepolo’s art, suffused as it is with
a pictorial imagination that metaphorically and, I think, literally soars through the heavens? Now, before leaving the Clerici ceiling, I want to show you two details. Frescoes, yes, this detail begins, frescoes are artifacts,
object and materials as much as the canvasses that we, as Americans, more usually see in museums. Fresco, as you know, requires
a totally different process, different from oils on canvass. Here is one side of the Clerici ceiling, a figure of one of the
winds outlined in red. Here is a close-up and now,
as if we had climbed a ladder, we see the painter’s incisions
cutting into the plaster to shape and model the figure
as well as the cloud below, which is mostly invisible from the floor. Here’s a second detail, this time a warrior,
again, on one of the sides. Now, while the detail on the right makes the warrior look somewhat awkward, I can assure you that when you’re there, it works, it works, he doesn’t at all. Here is a closer detail so you can see Tiepolo’s
brushwork and paint. Over the next years of the early 1740s, Gianbattista undertook
several major commissions which were challenging in subject matter and mammoth in size. A result, I think, of
his experiences in Milan. For the parish church of Verolanuova in the provinces midway
between Verona and Milan, he painted two Hebraic subjects that Christian writers had interpreted as prefigurations of Christian events. “The Fall of Manna” on the left, signifying Christ as the bread of life, and “The Sacrifice of Melchizedek” connoting the sacrament of Eucharist. These are the small oils in Buenos Aires which I have never seen, I have to say. As a proud father, I want to tell you that my daughter took these
pictures a few weeks ago while in Buenos Aires, she loyally went to the museum and
took these good slides. Each of these paintings
measures three feet by two feet, three feet by two feet. Here are their massive altarpieces. Instead of three feet tall, 33 feet tall. Instead of two feet wide, 17 feet wide. And you note the doors below to appreciate the size of the canvasses above. A year or two later,
again in the provinces but now in an elegant villa, Tiepolo frescoed two scenes
from ancient history, the “Continent of Scipio” on your left and the family of Darius seeking clemency from Alexander the Great. But you have to see these
within the context of the space. These, together with
many others like them, plus the three fresco cycles in Milan, form the core of Tiepolo’s
greatness until age 45. Now, about 20 years later,
in March 1762 at age 65, just before leaving Venice forever, as it turned out, to
make his way to Madrid where he worked for King
Charles III of Spain, not the Charles we spoke about earlier, Tiepolo gave what today,
here you see him three times, he gave what today we would
call a press interview. The anonymous journalist
printed for his readers Gianbattista’s own words on
how he conceived his goals and sought to satisfy his
clientele, his noble clientele. “It was necessary,” he said, I quote, “that the painter’s mind
seek the sublime and heroic. “It must reach for perfection itself.” When Tiepolo made that statement in 1762, he had already frescoed, on your left, the colossal vault of the stairwell in the archbishop’s palace
in Wurzburg, Germany, 75 miles northwest of Nuremberg, but he had yet to fresco, on your right, the ceiling of the throne room in the Royal Palace of Madrid, so you see, he did get around. His Milanese commissions of
the 1730s were giant steps and they prepared him for these and other immense undertakings. And they celebrate his pursuit
of the sublime and the heroic during his half-century long career from about 1720 to his death in 1770. Thank you. (audience applauding)

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