These illusionistic depictions of allegorical sculptures from the Palazzo Valle Marchesini Sala in Vicenza were part of an immersive fresco cycle completed around 1760 and detached around 1900. Incised lines (still visible in raking light) helped to guide Tiepolo as he painted quickly before the walls’ wet plaster surface dried. Tiepolo consulted a specialist in perspective, Mengozzi, to ensure that the foreshortened depictions of architecture and sculpture aligned when one stood at the center of the room, evidence of just how site-specific such decorative programs could be.
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Fig. 1. Remnant of fresco in Palazzo Valle-Marchesini-Sala, Vicenza
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Title:Allegorical Figure Representing Metaphysics
Artist:Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Italian, Venice 1696–1770 Madrid) and Workshop
Artist: and Girolamo Mengozzi (called Colonna) (Italian, Venetian, 1688–ca. 1766)
Medium:Fresco, transferred to canvas
Dimensions:146 x 57 7/8 in. (370.8 x 147 cm)
Credit Line:Bequest of Grace Rainey Rogers, 1943
Allegorical Figure Representing Metaphysics—together with Arithmetic (43.85.14), Geometry (43.85.15), and Grammar (43.85.16)—is a detached fresco from the Palazzo Valle-Marchesini-Sala in Vicenza. Enea Arnaldi’s 1779 guidebook of the sights of Vicenza describes in the palace of Count Giorgio Marchesini: "the Gallery . . . painted in fresco by Girolamo Colonna for what concerns the architecture, and by Giovan Battista Tiepolo for the figures . . . there is furthermore a room with groups in painted bronze, with four overdoors". The four detached frescoes have been wrongly believed to have come from a villa on the Brenta canal (Morassi 1962), or a villa near Vicenza (Pallucchini 1968), or Villa Valier Bembo, known as La Chitarra (Precerutti Garberi 1968, Zeri and Gardner 1973). Following a restoration campaign in Palazzo Valle-Marchesini-Sala between 1983–86, traces of the detached frescoes were found in the Gallery, firmly establishing the provenance of the paintings and linking them to the description in Arnaldi’s guidebook.
The frescoes in Palazzo Valle-Marchesini-Sala were commissioned in 1760 by Giorgio Marchesini (Chignola 2004). Giovanni Battista Tiepolo painted the figures, possibly with the assistance of his son Giovanni Domenico, and of Francesco Zugno. Girolamo Mengozzi Colonna, instead, produced the trompe l’oeil architectural background. The main Gallery was decorated with an Ionic colonnade, which included figures in grisaille: The Met's four liberal arts, Mars with a Greyhound, Venus and Cupid (private collection, Turin), a Head, usually described as of Bacchus, but probably of Flora (previously in the collection of Héli de Talleyrand at the Pavillion Colombe, Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt; sold at Christie’s, Paris, November 26, 2005, no. 349, and now in a private collection, Venice), and possibly also the Two Allegorical Figures with an Obelisk (John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota). The ceiling of the Gallery was frescoed with a roundel of Allegorical Figures Representing Virtue and Abundance, also at The Met (43.85.12). The paintings were removed from the Gallery before 1909, but most of the architectural setting by Mengozzi Colonna survives in the room.
Allegorical Figure Representing Metaphysics is identified by the inscription (METAFISICA) on top of the pedestal, painted to resemble African marble. It was originally on the right wall of the Gallery, paired with Grammar, and across the room from Arithmetic and Geometry. Giorgio Marchesini was a well-known Mason, and his palace was used as a Masonic temple in the late 1730s. It has been suggested (Menegozzo 1990) that the entire cycle of frescoes by Tiepolo at Palazzo Marchesini may have a Masonic significance.
Inscription: Inscribed (on base of statue): METAFISICA
Palazzo Valle-Marchesini-Sala, Vicenza (until or before 1909); [Durr Freedley, New York, about 1914/15; bought for Rogers]; Grace Rainey Rogers, New York (about 1914/15–d. 1943)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venetian Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," May 1–September 2, 1974, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Giambattista Tiepolo, 1696–1770," January 24–April 27, 1997, not in catalogue.
Enea Arnaldi. Descrizione delle architetture, pitture, e scolture di Vicenza. repr., 1982. Vicenza, 1779, part 2, p. 72, praises the frescoed decoration of the gallery of the palazzo belonging to Giorgio Marchesini, stating that the architecture was painted by Girolamo Mengozzi and the figures by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.
Pompeo Molmenti. G. B. Tiepolo: la sua vita e le sue opere. Milan, , p. 95, notes that the frescoes in the palazzo Marchesini have been detached from the walls and sold to foreigners.
Eduard Sack. Giambattista und Domenico Tiepolo: Ihr Leben und Ihre Werke. Hamburg, 1910, vol. 2, p. 181, notes that the frescoes mentioned by Arnaldi [see Ref. 1779] in the palazzo Marchesini have been removed and sold.
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 95.
R. Cevese inGuida di Vicenza. 2nd ed. Vicenza, 1956, p. 208, mentions the frescoes by Tiepolo and Mengozzi that formerly decorated a room of the palazzo Marchesini.
Antonio Morassi. A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings of G. B. Tiepolo. London, 1962, pp. 33, 65, fig. 377, tentatively dates the entire group of frescoes about 1750–60 and attributes all of them to Giovanni Domenico, possibly with the help of assistants for the purely decorative parts, working from designs by Giovanni Battista and under his direction; states that they are said to come from a villa on the Brenta but that there is no information on their exact provenance; includes the frescoes formerly in the palazzo Marchesini as a separate entry and states that their present whereabouts are unknown; relates 43.85.13–16 to four trompe-l'oeil statues formerly in the palazzo Trento-Valmarana, Vicenza (destroyed 1945), and to a figure from the villa Cornaro (now Museo Civico, Treviso).
Anna Pallucchini inL'opera completa di Giambattista Tiepolo. Milan, 1968, p. 136, lists the entire group under works of various attribution, noting that Morassi [see Ref. 1962] attributes only the designs to Giovanni Battista; lists the frescoes formerly in the palazzo Marchesini separately, under insufficiently documented works.
Mercedes Precerutti Garberi. Affreschi settecenteschi delle ville venete. Milan, 1968, pp. 141–42 [English ed., "Frescoes from Venetian Villas," London, 1971, pp. 127–28], discusses Tiozzo's [see Ref. 1968] suggestion that the frescoes come from the villa Valier; notes differences in handling and quality in the various frescoes, finding evidence of Giovanni Battista's direct intervention in 43.85.12–16 and attributing these five works to Giovanni Battista and Giovanni Domenico; finds the style close to Giovanni Battista's mature works of 1754–57.
Clauco Benito Tiozzo. Gli affreschi delle ville del Brenta. Padua, 1968, p. 86, suggests that the frescoes may come from the villa Valier alla Chitarra.
Adriano Mariuz. Giandomenico Tiepolo. Venice, , p. 128, attributes 43.85.12–16 to Giovanni Battista and dates the entire group of frescoes about 1757–60.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 197, 488, 608, as by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Venetian School. New York, 1973, pp. 63–65, pl. 70, find the style of the frescoes close to Giovanni Battista's of the 1750s, and attribute them to pupils or assistants, possibly after a design by the master; note that the architectural elements must have been painted by a specialist in painted perspectives.
George Knox. Giambattista and Domenico Tiepolo: A Study and Catalogue Raisonné of the Chalk Drawings. Oxford, 1980, vol. 1, p. 309, no. P.170, includes the series in a checklist of paintings by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo.
Mauro Cova inPalazzo dei Conti Valle: annotazioni per un tesoro ritrovato. Vicenza, 1986, pp. 22–23, 26–28, 31 nn. 1–2, 4, fig. 29, following a restoration of the palazzo dei Conti Valle [palazzo Marchesini], identifies 43.85.12–16 as the frescoes mentioned by Arnaldi [see Ref. 1779] in the gallery of the palazzo, noting that the outlines of the compositions are clearly visible in the plaster remaining on the walls; erroneously implies that the frescoes were removed sometime between the two world wars; attributes the figures to Giovanni Battista; dates the entire decorative cycle about 1743 and compares it with monochromes by Tiepolo in the cappella sagredo in San Francesco della Vigna, Venice.
Vittorio Sgarbi inPalazzo dei Conti Valle: annotazioni per un tesoro ritrovato. Vicenza, 1986, pp. 7–9, dates the frescoes between 1747 and 1750.
Vittorio Veller inPalazzo dei Conti Valle: annotazioni per un tesoro ritrovato. Vicenza, 1986, p. 16.
Mauro Cova. "Vicenza: Palazzo Valle-Marchesini-Sala, scoperta e restauro di un ciclo di affreschi (G.B. Tiepolo - G. Mengozzi-Colonna)." Arte veneta 41 (1987), pp. 258–59, mistakenly states that the frescoes were detached from the walls in the 1920s.
Franco Barbieri. Vicenza, città di palazzi. Milan, 1987, pp. 115–16.
Mauro Cova inI Tiepolo e il Settecento vicentino. Exh. cat., Basilica palladiana, Vicenza. Milan, 1990, pp. 35–37, no. 1.3.1a, attributes 43.85.12–16 to Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and collaborators and dates them 1744–47; states that photographs reveal that the gallery of the palazzo contained two additional frescoes (Mars with a greyhound, Venus and Cupid), also detached from the walls and now lost; suggests that the iconography of the gallery could be related to Masonic themes, noting that the palazzo was the site of the first Masonic temple in 1735–38.
Rita Menegozzo. Nobili e Tiepolo a Vicenza. Vicenza, 1990, pp. 73, 77–78, 80–84, 86, in addition to the Mars and Venus [see Ref. Cova 1990], tentatively identifies two more frescoes from the gallery: two allegorical figures with an obelisk (John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota) and a bacchic head (Talleyrand collection, Paris); gives the subject matter a Masonic interpretation.
Massimo Gemin and Filippo Pedrocco. Giambattista Tiepolo: i dipinti, opera completa. Venice, 1993, pp. 370–71, no. 313, ill., list Mars, Venus, the two figures with an obelisk, and the head of Bacchus, together with 43.85.12–16, as having decorated the gallery of the palazzo Marchesini, and describe the placement of each work; attribute them to Giovanni Battista with some help from assistants, perhaps including Giovanni Domenico or Francesco Zugno; concur with Cova's (1990) dating of 1744–47.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 90, ill.
Keith Christiansen. "The Ca' Dolfin Tiepolos." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 55 (Spring 1998), pp. 18–19, fig. 18.
Filippo Pedrocco. Giambattista Tiepolo. Milan, 2002, pp. 263–64, no. 180/3, ill.
Ismaele Chignola. "Gli affreschi di Tiepolo a palazzo Valle Marchesini: nuovi elementi per una datazione." Arte veneta 61 (2004), pp. 233, 235, 239 n. 3, dates the palazzo Marchesini frescoes to 1760.
Virginia Brilliant. Italian, Spanish, and French Paintings in the Ringling Museum of Art. New York, 2017, pp. 310–11 n. 6, under no. I.183.
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