Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
The eighteenth-century Venetian painter Giambattista Tiepolo spent his life executing commissions in churches, palaces, and villas, often covering vast ceilings like those at the Würzburg Residenz in Germany and the Royal Palace in Madrid with frescoes that are among the glories of Western art. The life of an epoch swirled around him—but though his contemporaries appreciated and admired him, they failed to understand him.
Few have even attempted to tackle Tiepolo’s series of thirty-three bizarre and haunting etchings, the Capricci and the Scherzi, but Roberto Calasso rises to the challenge, interpreting them as chapters in a dark narrative that contains the secret of Tiepolo’s art. Blooming ephebes, female Satyrs, Oriental sages, owls, snakes: we will find them all, as well as Punchinello and Death, within the pages of this book, along with Venus, Time, Moses, numerous angels, Cleopatra, and Beatrice of Burgundy—a motley company always on the go.
Calasso makes clear that Tiepolo was more than a dazzling intermezzo in the history of painting. Rather, he represented a particular way of meeting the challenge of form: endowed with a fluid, seemingly effortless style, Tiepolo was the last incarnation of that peculiar Italian virtue of sprezzatura, the art of not seeming artful.
set far apart; eyes lengthened toward the temples and slightly bulging; pinkish complexion; a narrow, rounded brow; a strong, supple torso; calm, confident, fearless gestures. This woman of Tiepolo’s had never existed before. Even in the closest precedents—inevitably to be found in Venice, between Titian and Veronese—the detachment and lightness of sovereignty are not yet perfected. Something holds those figures to the ground, or to white beds, whereas with Tiepolo all now occurs between the sky
wandering.) Between Tiepolo and Baudelaire, with a perpendicular movement, the body of the maiden and the elegant skeleton overlap and separate, united by the incessant swaying of the asp, which—even when it is absent—Baudelaire’s fancy imagines as present. Elsewhere he would compare his “chère indolente” to “a serpent dancing around a stick.” But wasn’t this also an image that recurred for no reason we can be sure of in Tiepolo’s Scherzi? The consistency—and the boldness—with which Tiepolo
Asherah is a name that condenses within itself the abomination of idolatry. Yet for a long time, until the reign of Manasseh, it happened that “the objects that had been made for Baal, for the Asherah, and for all the heavenly host” were housed inside the temple of Yahweh. For Israel, the perennial risk was that the house of Yahweh still contained altars for other divine beings. Hence Manasseh “made his son pass through the fire [to make him immortal, as in Eleusis?], and practiced astrology, and
symbolic maidens joined in the dance. After Poussin, Panosfsky implies, without saying so directly, the story of the symbol crumbles and burns itself out. Yet, almost like a palinode, Panofsky put on the facing title page of Studies in Iconology a drawing by Tiepolo with a figure of Father Time. And he remarked that the Metropolitan possessed “more than half a dozen” of those drawings, with various themes: “Time and Fortune. Time and Truth, Time on a chariot drawn by Dragons, Venus handing Cupid
angel who prostrates himself before Mary, and Time who kneels before Venus are fundamentally—with regard to all of Tiepolo’s life and work—the same figure. * * * The flight into Egypt is recounted in a few words in the Gospel according to Matthew: “Behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee.” A great number of painters chose that flight as a subject, on a par with the