Tiepolo’s compositional ingenuity is apparent everywhere in this oil sketch: the crowded space compressed between the ruins of a triumphal arch, column, and fallen cornice; the impossibly thin and towering ladder; the aggressively foreshortened cow at lower right, and the red-turbaned king’s elbow that juts out towards the viewer. Tiepolo varied the skin tones of the three magi, or wise men, and their pages to contrast with those of the Holy Family and underscore their arrival from distant lands. While probably made in preparation for an altarpiece, the sketch, with its animated paint handling, appealed to collectors in its own right.
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P. A. B. Widener, Ashbourne, near Philadelphia (by 1885–1909; cat., 1885–1900, vol. 2, no. 264; sold to Sulley); [Sulley, London, from 1909]; [Sedelmeyer, Paris, in 1910]; ?[Agnew, London, in 1910]; sale, Christie's, London, April 23, 1910, no. 146, for £735 to Coureau; B. Coureau (from 1910); [Gimpel & Wildenstein, Paris, until 1911; sold for Fr 30,000 to Biron]; Guillaume de Gontaut-Biron, marquis de Biron, Paris, later Geneva (1911–37; sold through Seligmann, Rey & Co. to The Met)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Tiepolo and his Contemporaries," March 14–April 24, 1938, no. 12.
Detroit Institute of Arts. "Thirty-Eight Great Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 2–28, 1951, no catalogue.
Art Gallery of Toronto. "Thirty-Eight Great Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," November 14–December 12, 1951, no catalogue.
City Art Museum of St. Louis. "Thirty-Eight Great Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," January 6–February 4, 1952, no catalogue.
Seattle Art Museum. "Thirty-Eight Great Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," March 1–June 30, 1952, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Oil Sketches by 18th Century Italian Artists from New York Collections," January 30–March 21, 1971, no. 26.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venetian Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," May 1–September 2, 1974, no catalogue.
Athens. National Gallery Alexandros Soutzos Museum. "From El Greco to Cézanne: Masterpieces of European Painting from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," December 13, 1992–April 11, 1993, no. 31.
Residenz Würzburg. "Der Himmel auf Erden: Tiepolo in Würzburg," February 15–May 19, 1996, no. 61.
Paris. Petit Palais. "Giambattista Tiepolo, 1696–1770," October 22, 1998–January 24, 1999, no. 68.
Catalogue of Paintings Forming the Private Collection of P. A. B. Widener, Ashbourne, near Philadelphia. [Paris], 1885–1900, vol. 2, p. 264, no. 264, ill. opp. p. 264 [continuously paginated and numbered from vol. 1], as "The Worship of the Wise Men".
Eduard Sack. Giambattista und Domenico Tiepolo: Ihr Leben und Ihre Werke. Hamburg, 1910, vol. 1, p. 106, fig. 92; vol. 2, p. 219, no. 498, as in the collection of Charles Sedelmeyer, Paris; dates it about 1753, calling it a preliminary study for the altarpiece (Alte Pinakothek, Munich) Tiepolo painted for the abbey of Schwarzach, Franconia, in that year.
Pompeo Molmenti. Tiepolo: La vie et l'oeuvre du peintre. Paris, 1911, p. 204, agrees with Sack (1910) that it is a sketch for the Munich altarpiece.
Max Goering. Letter. April 1938, calls it a sketch for the Munich altarpiece and dates it about 1752.
Hermann W. Williams Jr. "Tiepolo and His Contemporaries." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 33 (March 1938), p. 64, ill. on cover.
M[ax]. Goering inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 33, Leipzig, 1939, p. 153.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 283–84, ill., calls it a sketch for the Munich altarpiece.
Antonio Morassi. Tiepolo. Bergamo, 1943, pp. 31, 47, fig. 90, questions its identification as the preparatory study for the Munich altarpiece, suggesting on the basis of style that it was painted in the period following that of the Munich picture (but dates it about 1753 in the list of illustrations).
Max Goering. "Wenig Bekannte und neu gefundene Werke von Giov. Batt. Tiepolo." Pantheon 17 (October–December 1944), pp. 102–4, ill. p. 107.
Giorgio Vigni. Tiepolo. Milan, 1951, unpaginated, pl. 98.
Edoardo Arslan. Letter. April 21, 1952.
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.
Antonio Morassi. G. B. Tiepolo: His Life and Work. London, 1955, pp. 29, 147, fig. 40.
Paul Wescher. La prima Idea: Die Entwicklung der Ölskizze von Tintoretto bis Picasso. Munich, 1960, p. 49.
George Knox. Catalogue of the Tiepolo Drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum. London, 1960, pp. 31, 40 n. 57, p. 89, under no. 286, notes that the figure in yellow appears in reverse in a drawing in the Victoria and Albert Museum, finding that this supports the view that the MMA painting is not a study for the Munich altarpiece but rather an independent work dating to the late 1750s or early 1760s.
Antonio Morassi. A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings of G. B. Tiepolo. London, 1962, pp. 30, 33, relates it to an etching [Rizzi no. 27] said to be based on an altarpiece painted by Tiepolo for Aranjuez.
Geoffrey Agnew. Agnew's, 1817–1967. London, 1967, unpaginated, ill., as having passed through Agnew's hands; lists it as with B. Coureau in 1910.
Anna Pallucchini inL'opera completa di Giambattista Tiepolo. Milan, 1968, pp. 118, 132, no. 280, ill., dates it about 1763 and considers it possibly a sketch for the lost Aranjuez altarpiece [see Ref. Morassi 1962].
J[ames]. Byam Shaw. "The Biron Collection of Eighteenth-Century Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum." Metropolitan Museum Journal 3 (1970), pp. 237–39, on the basis of style, dates it after the Munich altarpiece, "perhaps by as much as a decade".
Günter Passavant. "Mostra del Tiepolo: Zur Ausstellung in der Villa Manin di Passariano." Kunstchronik 24 (December 1971), p. 367, dates it to Tiepolo's Madrid period (1762–70).
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 196, 273, 607.
H. Diane Russell. Rare Etchings by Giovanni Battista and Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1972, p. 32 n. 80, points out that the seven paintings made by Tiepolo for Aranjuez did not include one of this subject, explaining that the error arose from a misreading of a text published in the "Diccionario Historico de los mas Illustres Profesores de las Bellas Artes in España" (1800, vol. 5, pp. 45–46) [see Ref. Morassi 1962].
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. 57–58, pl. 62, doubt that it was a preliminary sketch for the Munich altarpiece, finding that there are few similarities between the two works, and that the MMA picture seems stylistically more advanced, though perhaps still in the 1750s.
Massimo Gemin and Filippo Pedrocco. Giambattista Tiepolo: i dipinti, opera completa. Venice, 1993, pp. 180, 462–63, no. 477, ill., reject the connection with the Munich altarpiece and, finding it close to Tiepolo's sketch (MMA, 37.165.2) for the Saint Thecla altarpiece, date it about 1758–59, during the artist's final years in Venice.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 88, ill.
Peter O. Krückmann. Heaven on Earth: Tiepolo, Masterpieces of the Würzburg Years. Munich, 1996, p. 110, fig. 116 (color), dates it about 1758 on the basis of style.
Edith Schmidmaier-Kathke inDer Himmel auf Erden: Tiepolo in Würzburg. Ed. Peter O. Krückmann. Exh. cat., Residenz Würzburg. Munich, 1996, vol. 1, pp. 128–29, no. 61, ill. (color), dates it about 1758–59, rejecting the connection with the Munich altarpiece.
Stéphane Loire and José de Los Llanos inGiambattista Tiepolo, 1696–1770. Exh. cat., Musée du Petit Palais. Paris, 1998, pp. 211, 265, no. 68, ill. (color), date it about 1758; suggest that the detail of the figure on the column was inspired by Raphael's "Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple" in the Vatican.
Esmée Quodbach. "'The Last of the American Versailles': The Widener Collection at Lynnewood Hall." Simiolus 29, no. 1/2 (2002), pp. 53–54 n. 19, fig. 8, states that Widener sold it to Sulley in 1909.
Filippo Pedrocco. Giambattista Tiepolo. Milan, 2002, p. 299, no. 252, ill.
Chiara Callegari inI colori della seduzione: Giambattista Tiepolo & Paolo Veronese. Ed. Linda Borean and William L. Barcham. Exh. cat., Castello. Udine, 2012, pp. 163–64, 181 n. 2, fig. 2 (color).
Xavier F. Salomon inGiambattista Tiepolo: "il miglior pittore di Venezia". Ed. Giuseppe Bergamini et al. Exh. cat., Villa Manin di Passariano. Codroipo, 2012, p. 249, under no. 46.
The picture was formerly considered a preliminary sketch for an altarpiece painted by Tiepolo in 1753 for the Benedictine abbey of Schwarzach in Franconia (now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich); however, the compositional and stylistic differences between the two works have led most recent scholars to reject this association. A suggestion that The Met's picture may be connected with a lost altarpiece painted by Tiepolo for a church in Aranjuez, Spain, has also been rejected (see Russell 1972). The painting probably dates from 1758–59, just before Tiepolo left Venice for Spain.
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