Brophy on Tiepolo

This time a slightly longish quote from Brigid Brophy, but she reaches me by appreciating Tiepolo, something not so common in the sixties, or even now:

“The religious tradition in which painting grew up was always indulging in religion’s habit of breaking through the artistic conventions. The altarpiece propelled its demands through the dimensions of the picture and out into the congregation, insisting ‘The madonna depicted here really exists outside this frame and can be addressed’ or ‘The figure you see here being tortured to death really is suffering at this moment because of your sins’. The antique myths, on the other hand, could make no demands on real belief, only on imaginative belief; and so they provided a cul-de-sac into which the art of painting could retreat and there develop an aesthetic—criteria by which a painting could be judged in its own conventions and without extraneous intervention.
Antiquity as a repository of the imagination survived into the eighteenth century, when Giambattista Tiepolo was still peopling it, in the tradition of Veronese, with magnificent imagined personages and sophisticated, impossible magic. But culture had meanwhile turned round in its cul-de-sac and was prepared to spring out of the picture-frame again, armed now with a developed aesthetic in the shape of the Rules of Taste—one of which was to stab Tiepolo in the back and prefer, to his transcendent creations, the work of Mengs…The neo-classic movement to a large extent dropped ancient mythology in favor of ancient history, with all the trappings pedantically reconstructed—that is, not imagined, in the sense that Tiepolo imagined the trappings of his pictures, at all. Tiepolo was the last of the renaissance geniuses, the final exponent of a cultural tradition passed from one individual to another. When he fell into unpopularity, painting succumbed to the social age.”

Interesting that Brophy was married to Michael Levey, whose book on Tiepolo sits on my shelf. But her insights are more far-reaching. Strictly speaking, this image is not a mythology, but it connects with her Shakespearean associations in the earlier post.

Tiepolo, Banquet of Cleopatra 1744

Giambattista Tiepolo, Banquet of Cleopatra 1744

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