Tiepolo today

As I said in the previous post, I don’t necessarily agree with Stella’s assessment that Tiepolo is more distanced and restrained than the great Renaissance ceiling painters. I have included a couple of Tiepolo ceilings on this blog. Stella probably wouldn’t relate much to what I like in Tiepolo. Moving away from ceilings for a minute, these canvases struck me pretty strongly when I saw them in Chicago. The space between the two gate posts is beautiful, particularly that one of them is closer to us than the other. Tiepolo can distribute, arrange and pattern his forms as well as Poussin, and that puts him in my canon of greatness. What is that crazy, billowing orange shape? Of course it’s a

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Rinaldo and Armida in Her Garden, 1742/45

drapery, but why is it blowing like that, to make a seashell/mandorla seat for Armida? Could we call it an abstraction? Suppose so. The symmetry of mirror and shield, and of Armida’s leg and Rinaldo’s arm, are in the Poussin mode for sure; the putto is in the right spot, and the fallen twig that cuts across in front of the further gate post is insisting on something I’m not exactly sure of. This kind of work doesn’t need to be busy, its intelligence is plain to see, and that’s leaving aside the comedy of the old gents leaning on the wall and the effeteness of our hero, not to mention Tiepolo’s mastery of a very

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Armida Encounters the Sleeping Rinaldo, 1742/45

modern overall paleness and lightness. And lots of empty space that doesn’t feel wasted. In this other piece Armida’s orange drape is up to its antics again, but what strikes me are the trees on the right, which come down into the figures in a way exactly like trees in Poussin, though his designs are more stable. The shield and the wagon wheel bracket the active part of the composition, which swings on the trees—no wasted space in this picture, because that croquet mallet needs room to swing. We can also manage a non-formalist smile at Rinaldo’s knobby knees. Everything a painting might want or need is there, except tragedy. Maybe he’s right, Tiepolo lacks the kind of intensity our Kleistian Stella values, but has a different kind, that of the organic arrangement that can grow without being forced. The emotionally light and mannered feeling is charming, and I’ll grant it may grow tiresome, but not in the ceilings, which have a magnificence that transcends all that. They also work other kinds of formal business which I believe are useful and very interesting today, and will discuss another time.

This entry was posted in Italian Art, Principles of Abstraction and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *