Monday, September 15, 2014

Artist of the Month: Tiepolo

-By William O'Connor

One of the oldest influences in my career has been Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.(1696-1770).

When I was a young man I can still remember ascending the grand staircase of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC and entering under the arches into the Tiepolo Gallery. These paintings were so overwhelming to this young artist that he inspired me to want to make pictures. In Europe his paintings were titanic, covering domed ceilings with trompe l'oile pink cupids and goddesses floating on clouds. As an art student I drifted away from this fantastic, pastel surrealism towards more realistic artists.

I later came to re-introduce myself to him not as a painter, but as one of the finest draftsmen of his generation.  While his amazing paintings are an inspiration and masterfully executed his mixed media sketches are fascinating and look almost like Rodin sculptures reminiscent of Rembrandt and are completely different than his paintings. His sketches have an emotional immediacy that his paintings lack, with a very expressive quality lost in the scale of his mural-sized finished work. What I find most educational is his dramatic compositions. Grouping figures into forms and balancing design with architecture effortlessly.

An artist worth a second look, and under appreciated for his sketches and works on paper. I've attached a few of my favorites, but explore him for yourself.



  1. The face on that baby in the first image cracks me up every time I see that painting.

  2. Here is a perfect comparison between the life of a sketch and the 'ok' final painting: sketch final

    That said, I still love his final paintings as much as his preparatory work. The design... the figures... the colours! He and Paolo Veronese are two of my absolute favourites when it comes to grand monumental scale painting.

    1. (I really wish you could edit your comments...)

      Look especially at the brush stroke that represents the under side of the hand and little finger on St. Anne's right hand.

      Of course the poses and composition varies a bit between the sketch and the final version, but I think that's not really important - rather it's the duality of drawing/painting of the sketch that makes it so mind-blowingly good. It's interesting that artists could produce paintings such as this one long before artists finally figured out that it's perfectly reasonable to leave that kind of mark making in the final painting. And just think about all the cartoons and sketches of old masters that have been lost because they were just a means to an end, and not worth saving...

    2. Thanks for that, David. Some interesting observations. There were obviously artists that handled things loosely, both before and after Titian, but like you, I wonder why it never took favor for finished works. For me, I see it become much more acceptable shortly after Titian, in the work of Delecroix and Goya.Perhaps Titian played a role in that.

      Maybe it just came down to the layman's appearance of craftsmanship. Since most of these pieces were commissioned works, the clients may have had the final say in the level of refinement. People often forget that guys like Michealangelo were illustrators, and often didn't like the things they had to paint.

      And yes, I wish you could edit comments too.If you ever need to edit something, just repost a new comment and delete your old one. I can clean it all up later.

  3. Tiepolo is one of my all-time faves.

    I agree about his drawings being more engaging than his paintings. That said, images in books and on the web are all the same size, which makes it easy to criticize in some respects. Translating the energy of a sketch into an enormous ceiling work is quite a challenge. Just to complete one of these large frescoes is in itself a heroic task.
    What I like about his paintings that isn't in the sketches is his brushwork rendering, which can only bee seen close-up to the paintings. The way Teipolo paints the back of an arm or the side of a foot is just wonderful. And unlike most rococo artists, Tiepolo actually uses empty space in his compositions. His religious works have more emotional power than his classical-themed works.

  4. I agree his paintings are amazing, always loved them! When you see them close up, you can see the scale of the brushwork, which always suprised me as a kid. and the pink floating babies always make me chuckle. I love to see artist's sketch books, it gets you inside his brain and his creative process, and he was a brilliant composer!


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