Capriccio in Time and Space

On the Bicentenary of Giandomenico Tiepolo’s Death

15 October 2004 - 15 November 2004

Technically and thematically, Giandomenico's training is rooted in the great Rococo tradition, primarily in the art of his father, Giambattista Tiepolo. At the same time, the social revolution of the late eighteenth century and the new moral sensitivity of Neo-classicism with its simpler forms and more dramatic tone affected his imagination, style and choice of themes. The wide scope of his art is apparent in those of his works that are preserved at the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest; in the above exhibition, his oeuvre was shown by way of eight paintings, five drawings and seventytwo etchings. While the father painted mainly large-scale ceiling frescoes, murals and altar paintings for aristocrats and wealthy ecclesiastical organisations – works represented at the exhibition by prints made after them by Giandomenico himself – the son's output is characterised by paintings, drawings and etchings of a more intimate kind, works made for a middle-class clientele. Religious and historical themes linked to the ancien régime are increasingly questioned in his rendering. A repudiation of the tradition of monumental and solemn allegorical depiction is revealed by his demystification of gods, heroes and saints; by his exaggerated, almost caricatural, forms; and by his use of a foreshortening that verges on the absurd. Irony and humour also occur in his works, especially in those he made towards the end of his career, a time when he concentrated on genre scenes and drawings. He varied his subjects with great imagination, experimenting with different compositional structures, as documented by the analogies and explanations in the show. Two features of Rococo were preserved in his art: intimacy and the need for close-ups, and vitality. Observation of Venetian life clearly contributed here.

When working together with his father, Giandomenico was given tasks to execute alone: the embellishment, mainly in monochrome, of sopraporte, the spaces above doors, with mythological or historical scenes. As in his oil paintings, these works are simpler in terms of composition and more realistic than those by his father. In his scenes from ancient history and mythology, heroes are presented without solemnity, or else are depicted with ironically exaggerated ceremonious gestures. Giandomenico was soon renowned as a specialist of grisailles: four such works by him dealing mainly with the subject of love could be seen in the exhibition. Arranged like antique friezes, these scenes accorded with the new classical taste, which was inspired by the excavation and publication of reliefs from classical antiquity.

Autonomous drawings and prints play an important role in Giandomenico's oeuvre. Also, he made etchings after his own paintings and those of his father, in order to acquaint a wider public with them. His most famous works of graphic art are his three monumental series of etchings: the Stations of the Cross (1749), the Flight into Egypt (1753) and the Series of Heads (1774). The first two are complete in the Museum's collection, but the third is not; ten pieces of the last mentioned were shown in the exhibition. Capriccio (caprice), combining features of imaginary and real elements, became very popular in the eighteenth century, and Giandomenico was one of its finest representatives; it was the key to the whole exhibition. His chef d'oeuvre is the Flight into Egypt, in which he represents, in 24 variegated compositions, the journey of the Holy Family using new artistic methods and with a delight in detail unprecedented in art history. The pieces of this series are like snapshots of the events, bringing the story to the viewer in the manner of a play and accentuating the figures by means of daring light effects. It is for the sharply contrasted light and shade patches on his prints that posterity has come to regard him as a forerunner of Francisco Goya. He is famous for his capricious and startling aesthetic nodes stressed by way of dark hues, and for the sensuous depiction of luxurious fabrics through a rich texture of irregular lines. It is this that sets his pieces apart from those by his father, a few of whose etchings were displayed at the exhibition for purposes of comparison.

The Giandomenico Tiepolo drawings and paintings currently preserved at the Museum were acquired by the institution in the twentieth century, through the efforts of its curators. On the other hand, the Museum's etchings by the artist derive from the Esterházy Collection, purchased by the Hungarian state in 1870. One of the paintings in the exhibition hall was on loan from a private collection. Five paintings and an etching had been recently restored.

The installation designed and built for this purpose enabled the consistent groups and series of etchings to be displayed separately. The lengthier inscriptions and texts provided for each of the series were motivated by the increasing demand for ampler information in museums all around the world. The catalogue with Hungarian and English text contains an introductory essay presenting Giandomenico's career and the characterictics of his art. It is followed by the complete list of the exhibited works; the entire book is enriched with fifty-nine illustrations.

Curator of the exhibition: Andrea Czére