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New Morgan Library explores art in 18th-century Venice with more than 100 drawings
Domenico Tiepolo (1727–1804), Punchinellos with an Elephant. Pen and brown ink, brown and ocher wash, over black chalk. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; IV, 151b. Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1909. Photo: Graham S. Haber.

NEW YORK, NY.- The eighteenth century witnessed Venice’s second Golden Age. Although the city was no longer a major political power, it reemerged as an artistic capital, with such gifted artists as Giambattista Tiepolo, his son Domenico, Canaletto, and members of the Guardi family executing important commissions from nobility and the church, while catering to foreign travelers and bringing their talents to other Italian cities and even north of the Alps. Drawn entirely from the Morgan’s collection of eighteenth-century Venetian drawings—one of the world’s finest—Tiepolo, Guardi, and Their World chronicles the vitality and originality of an incredibly vibrant period. The exhibition is on view through January 5, 2014.

“In the eighteenth century, as the illustrious history of the thousand-year-old Venetian Republic was coming to a close, the city was favored with an array of talent that left a lasting mark on western art,” said William M. Griswold, director of the Morgan Library & Museum and principal curator of the exhibition. “The names Tiepolo, Canaletto, and Guardi are almost synonymous with the time and place, and their paintings and frescoes are the works most commonly associated with the Settecento in Venice. But their greatness as painters is only part of a much larger story. The drawings in this exhibition, chosen entirely from the Morgan’s collection, bring to light the full spirit of eighteenth-century Venetian art and the many extraordinary individuals who participated in the resurgence of cultural activity that characterized the final years of the Republic.”

The Morgan has more than two hundred sheets by Giambattista Tiepolo, spanning his long and immensely successful career. Over thirty are on view in the exhibition, including a monumental early drawing of Hercules, dozens of luminous studies in pen and wash the frescoed ceilings for which Tiepolo was most famous and a late study for an overdoor decoration that he created in Madrid, where he lived and worked from 1762 until his death in 1770.

Many of Tiepolo’s most beautiful drawings relate to the vast fresco depicting Apollo accompanied by other deities and the Four Continents, which the artist painted in 1740 on a ceiling in the Palazzo Clerici, Milan. Several works in the show, such as a drawing of Father Time and Cupid, relate directly to the finished fresco. A number of others were ultimately rejected by Tiepolo, or instead relate to the spectacular oil sketch for the Palazzo Clerici ceiling that now belongs to the Kimbell Art Museum, in Fort Worth.

A highlight of the exhibition is Tiepolo’s remarkable drawing The Virgin and Child Seated on a Globe, which like a number of other sheets on view formerly belonged to an album of exceptionally large, finished studies once in the collection of Prince Alexis Orloff. The sheet may be a rare example of the artist’s designs for metalwork, in this case perhaps a processional mace for the Scuola Grande dei Carmini, Venice.

Giovanni Battista Piazzetta was a half a generation older than Giambattista Tiepolo, and he exercised a profound influence on the work of the younger artist. The exhibition includes nine of the Morgan’s more than two hundred drawings by Piazzetta, including figure studies, drawings of ideal heads made for sale to collectors, and a selection of sheets that relate to the artist’s work as a designer of book illustrations.

Sebastiano Ricci played a crucial role in reorienting Venetian painting toward a new, painterly grand manner inspired by such earlier masters as Paolo Veronese. Ricci’s paintings, distinguished by their bright colors and flickering brush work, were a source of inspiration for later eighteenth-century Venetian artists. In addition to two drawings by him, the exhibition also features five sheets by Sebastiano’s nephew and pupil Marco Ricci. Best known for his imaginary landscapes, the younger Ricci’s drawings reflect diverse influences, including Renaissance and later Italian painters and printmakers, and even seventeenth-century Dutch art.

View painting—or vedutismo—flourished in eighteenth-century Venice, and both local collectors and foreign grand tourists eagerly sought images that replicated or merely evoked the unique topography of the city. Such topographical views and architectural capricci inspired by Venice’s architecture, canals, and lagoon were the specialty of Canaletto, who is represented in the exhibition with five drawings. These range from sketches made on the spot to finished works intended for sale. Francesco Guardi similarly excelled in depictions of Venice and nearby locations. Two of his drawings on view depict the richly decorated bucintoro, the state barge on which the doge journeyed each year on Ascension Day to reenact Venice’s symbolic marriage to the sea. Guardi’s drawing of Count Giovanni Zambeccari’s balloon ascent—launched from a platform in the Bacino di San Marco in 1783—is a faithful record of an event, whereas other works by the artist mingle the real with the imaginary.

The Morgan is one of the world’s principal repositories of drawings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, an artist whose spirited work reflects a variety of influences, from late Baroque stage design to the monuments of ancient Rome. Although few of his surviving drawings were made in his native Venice, the Morgan has a small group, of which a selection is on display. These include a magnificent, large sketch of a gondola, several designs for the interior decoration of Venetian palaces, and one of a very small number of freely drawn figural compositions that apparently date to the first years of the artist’s career.

The last truly great Venetian artist of the period was Domenico Tiepolo, who lived until the first decade of the nineteenth century and saw the collapse of the Venetian Republic in 1797. In 1740 Domenico entered his father Giambattista’s busy workshop, where he rapidly became a key member. The influence of his father was profound, and many drawings by the younger Tiepolo relate to those of Giambattista, but Domenico’s tremulous pen work and layering of wash set his work apart from that of the older artist.

Between 1786 and 1790, Domenico Tiepolo executed a series of more than three hundred New Testament scenes. Six of the Morgan’s twenty-three sheets from the series are on display, including a moving Christ on the Mount of Olives, Saints Peter and John at the Beautiful Gate, and The Holy Family Arrives at the Robbers’ Farm, an unusual subject derived from the Apocrypha.

In another series of about eighty large drawings the artist depicted scenes of Venetian life during the final years of the Republic. The six drawings from the series in the exhibition wittily describe the foibles and excesses of the artist’s contemporaries from all walks of life, including a quack dentist, a storyteller, a bride-to-be with her prospective mother-in-law, and bewigged magistrates.

Toward the very end of his life Domenico Tiepolo undertook one last, important series of drawings: theatrical vignettes chronicling the birth, childhood, youthful adventures, middle age, illness, death, and resurrection of the Commedia dell’Arte character Punchinello. Begun in 1797, the year the last doge stepped aside and the thousand-year-old Republic of Venice ceased to exist, these drawings are among the greatest achievements of eighteenth-century Venetian art.

In addition, Tiepolo, Guardi, and Their World presents drawings by some of the many lesser-known artists who worked alongside Sebastiano Ricci, Piazzetta, and Giambattista Tiepolo. These include Gaspare Diziani, Franceso Fontebasso, Mattia Bortoloni, Pietro Longhi, Pietro Antonio Novelli, Francesco Tironi, and Giacomo Guardi, whose postcard-like Venetian views in gouache on paper mark the end of a long, glorious tradition.

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