Seated River God, Nymph with an Oar, and Putto

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo Italian

Not on view

This beautiful drawing, so assured and appealing as an independent work of art, is part of a large group of drawings-The Metropolitan Museum of Art owns forty-two-that Tiepolo seems to have kept in his studio as a repertory of compositional motifs. Tiepolo made use of this figure group on two separate occasions, first at the Palazzo Clerici in Milan, where they appear at the edge of a painted cornice, and some twelve years later in the frescoed ceiling of the Kaisersaal in the Würzburg Residenz.

These figures appear at the bottom of the an oil sketch at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, that is generally accepted as the only surviving modello executed by Tiepolo for the ceiling of the ‘Sala degli Arazzi’ in Palazzo Clerici, Milan in 1741. The river god and nymph, without the oar and the accompanying putto, are perched on the top most cornice at the south end of the Palazzo Clerici gallery. A little more than ten years later the nymph and river god were repeated in the frescoed ceiling of the Kaisersaal in the Würzburg Residenz (see: Freeden and Lamb, 1956, pl. 79). The transparent washes of this drawing are of a yellow tone to be found in other drawings by Tiepolo, many of them associable with the Palazzo Clerici project. Several drawings in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (acc. nos. 37.165.22, 37.165.30, 37.165.32, 37.165.34, 37.165.36, 37.165.37, 37.165.39, 37.165.41, 37.165.44 - 37.165.46) are executed in this yellow wash, as are some thirty-seven in the Fondazione Horne, Florence, and ten in The Morgan Library, New York.

This drawing is part of a collection of forty-two drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (acc. nos. 37.165.7, 37.165.9 - 37.165.13, 37.165.17 - 37.165.52), which form a stylistically coherent group, many of them associated with Giovanni Battista Tiepolo's plans for the ceiling fresco in the gallery of the Palazzo Clerici. An album, the binding of which is labeled "VARI / PENSIERI / T.I.," is preserved in the Fondazione Horne, Florence. Forty drawings by Tiepolo mounted on thirty-three folios remain in the album; seven have been removed and are kept separately. An annotation in graphite on the first page indicates that there were only forty-seven drawings in the album when Herbert P. Horne purchased it in London at the end of the nineteenth century. Internal evidence, such as the stubs in the binding and wide skips in the sequence of folio numbers, suggests that the album may originally have contained at least seventy additional drawings.
Like the group of drawings in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Horne drawings consist in large part of studies datable on stylistic grounds to about 1740. Thus it is possible - though not certain - that the related drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art may have been removed from the album "VARI PENSIERI T. I." and purchased by Guillaume de Gontaut Biron, marquis de Biron (1859-1939), before Herbert P. Horne acquired the drawings and the binding now in Florence. The original album may have formed one volume in the rich repertory of visual motifs that Giovanni Battista Tiepolo is said to have presented to the Venetian convent of the Somaschi, at the church of Santa Maria della Salute, a religious order of which his son Giuseppe was a member, which was suppressed in 1810.

In 1994, Svetlana Alpers and Michael Baxandall characterized this group of drawings partly related to the ceiling fresco of the Palazzo Clerici as "highly designed, independent units. [...] A unit is generic in nature. While groups of drawings have been associated with a commissioned task, they are not preparatory in an ordinary sense. Hence the difficulty in establishing those precise drawing-to-painting connections one tends to expect." (p. 19) "[They] are often untidy, un-pretty, elliptical, functional explorations of pictorial problems Tiepolo was addressing." (p. 51).

(Carmen C. Bambach, 2006)

Seated River God, Nymph with an Oar, and Putto, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Italian, Venice 1696–1770 Madrid), Pen and brown ink, brush with pale (yellow) and dark brown wash, over black chalk

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