Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Apotheosis of the Spanish Monarchy

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Italian, Venice 1696–1770 Madrid)
Oil on canvas
Oval painted surface, 32 1/8 x 26 1/8 in. (81.6 x 66.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1937
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 622
From 1762 until his death, Tiepolo worked in Spain for Charles III and decorated several rooms in the Palacio Real, Madrid. This is one of two sketches for the saleta adjacent to the throne room. Each shows a female figure of Spain with lions for the province of Leon; an old woman beside a castle for Castile; and Hercules, the traditional protector of Spain, with a column representing Gibraltar. The compositions of the two sketches, both exhibited here, are quite varied.
Tiepolo's arrival in Madrid in June 1762 to fresco the throne room of the royal palace was preceded by the departure of the brilliant Neapolitan artist Corrado Giaquinto, who had been employed in that city by Charles III's father, and by the arrival of Anton Raphael Mengs, who, like Tiepolo, had been invited to the court in 1761. Both Giaquinto and Mengs worked on the extensive decorations of the royal palace together with a number of Spanish painters, including Francisco Bayeu. Giaquinto frescoed the ceiling over the main staircase—a commission that would have brought out Tiepolo's best—and Mengs carried out work in other rooms. Tiepolo had anticipated finishing the fresco in the throne room in two years and then returning to Venice; once in Madrid, however, he must have seen that the palace offered the possibility of far more extensive employment, and on August 7, 1764 he wrote a Venetian correspondent that he was engaged on "molti soffitti" (many ceilings). Whether he was referring to commissions in hand or, instead, was actively soliciting work through the production of modelli must remain a matter of speculation. In any event, he painted ceilings for two additional rooms, but a total of six oil sketches for four projects—including a particularly enchanting one for the ceiling of the queen's bedroom (1997.117.7)—survive. This work and another in the Museum's collection (1980.363) are alternative modelli for the saleta, or small room, adjacent to the throne room. The program of the saleta was described in detail by Francisco José Fabre in a guide made for King Ferdinand VII in 1829.

Not surprisingly, the modelli have many allegorical elements in common (see Additional Images, fig. 1). Each shows, in the heavens, beneath a flapping canopy and accompanied by Minerva, Jupiter and his eagle with, to the side, a trumpeting figure of Fame. Below, in the center, crowned by a flying figure of Mercury, are the Spanish Monarchy and her lion with, in this picture, an old woman and a tower symbolizing Old Castile, the most eminent of Spain's provinces, and, in the other, Neptune and Prudence (holding a snake). Immediately under them are Mars and Venus, accompanied in this modello by Saturn-Time and in the other by the personification of Castile. In the lower left are Hercules (with a column symbolizing the Strait of Gibraltar, which separates Spain from Africa and the Atlantic Ocean from the Mediterranean) and figures representing the continents: Africa (wearing the elephant headdress prescribed by Cesare Ripa in his Iconologia), America (wearing feathers), and Europe (the female figure with a miniature temple), who is highly prominent in this sketch and barely discernible in the other. Asia may be personified by a fourth figure in this picture, but she is excluded from the other.

There are a host of differences between the secondary allegorical figures included in each work. For example, this modello presents Merit and Justice next to the tower of Castile and shows Bacchus and Victory in the clouds behind the Spanish Monarchy. In the alternative sketch Fortitude (with her column) finds a place, and an American puma leaps out over the clouds. In this one, Jupiter is seen against a blue sky, while in the other he is surrounded by a golden aureole. The most important iconographic shift, however, is the reduction of the role of Neptune, shown in this picture above the continents offering the riches of the sea to the Spanish Monarchy but overshadowed in the other by the prominence accorded Apollo, who advances proffering a scepter. The conceit behind the sculptural decoration of the facade of the royal palace was the enlightened, that is, Apolline, rule of Spain—the Regia Solis—and Apollo plays a prominent part in the saleta ceiling fresco. If the modelli were done sequentially, it is the Apollo-based picture that must be the later proposal, since it is conceived around the one, crucial figure that this sketch lacks.

What is remarkable is not that two, alternative modelli, each with its own emphasis and compositional dynamics, should have been produced, but that the final ceiling should incorporate elements of both and, at the same time, introduce completely new features. Nothing could better demonstrate Tiepolo's inexhaustible ability to respond to the sometimes niggling demands of his patrons and the way his modelli were but a stage in his creative process, rather than fixed patterns he enlarged onto plaster surfaces. Fortunately, the relative scale of figures in the saleta fresco was only half that in the modello, allowing Tiepolo plenty of room to maneuver. Not only was Apollo given pride of place, but there was also space for the chariot from which he leaps. The prominent roles accorded Neptune and Castile in this presumably earlier modello were retained, and Europe was given broader treatment. Mercury is shown in a pose that reverses that in this modello, while Jupiter and his eagle combine features from each sketch: the god is the benign figure of this modello, and his eagle is the vigorously flying creature of the other. The poses of Fame and of a host of other figures are thought out anew. The mind at work is at once pragmatic, thrifty, and unfettered, and the result is Tiepolo's most brilliant scheme of decoration in the royal palace—one in which he deployed to the full his incomparable gifts as a narrative eulogizer: Jupiter, from his seat in Olympus, raises his hand to welcome into the empyrean the Spanish Monarchy, crowned by the gods' messenger, Mercury, guided by Apollo, and blessed by the wealth of Neptune.

[2010; adapted from Christiansen 1996]
the painter Guillaume Dubufe, Paris (by 1898); [Gimpel & Wildenstein, Paris, until 1910; sold for Fr 52,000 to Biron]; Guillaume de Gontaut-Biron, marquis de Biron, Paris, later Geneva (1910–37; sold through Seligmann, Rey & Co. to MMA)
Art Institute of Chicago. "Loan Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Prints by the Two Tiepolos: Giambattista and Giandomenico," February 4–March 6, 1938, no. 36.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Tiepolo and his Contemporaries," March 14–April 24, 1938, no. 18.

Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Vassar College Art Gallery. "Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Italian Paintings," February 1946, no catalogue? [see Zeri and Gardner 1973].

Palm Beach. Society of the Four Arts. "European Masters of the XVII and XVIII Centuries," January 13–February 5, 1950, no. 26.

Ottawa. National Gallery of Canada. "Masterpieces of European Painting, 1490–1840," February 15–April 4, 1960, no. 31.

London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition: Goya and His Times," December 7, 1963–March 1, 1964, no. 6.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Oil Sketches by 18th Century Italian Artists from New York Collections," January 30–March 21, 1971, no. 29.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venetian Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," May 1–September 2, 1974, no catalogue.

Fort Worth. Kimbell Art Museum. "Giambattista Tiepolo: Master of the Oil Sketch," September 18–December 12, 1993, no. 56.

Venice. Ca' Rezzonico (Museo del Settecento Veneziano). "Giambattista Tiepolo, 1696–1996," September 6–December 8, 1996, no. 54a.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Giambattista Tiepolo, 1696–1770," January 24–April 27, 1997, no. 54a.

Paris. Musée Jacquemart-André. "Les fresques de Tiepolo," October 15, 1998–January 20, 1999, unnumbered cat.

Codroipo. Villa Manin di Passariano. "Giambattista Tiepolo," December 15, 2012–April 7, 2013, no. 46.

Mexico City. Museo Nacional de Arte. "Yo, el Rey: La monarquía hispánica en el arte," July 1–October 18, 2015, no. 47.

Henry de Chennevières. Les Tiepolo. Paris, [1898?], p. 111, as in the collection of Guillaume Dubufe; attributes it to Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, calls it "la Monarchie espagnole au milieu de l'Olympe," and identifies it as the definitive sketch for one of the vaults in the royal palace in Madrid.

Eduard Sack. Giambattista und Domenico Tiepolo: Ihr Leben und Ihre Werke. Hamburg, 1910, vol. 1, p. 140; vol. 2, pp. 209, 218, no. 492, mentions related works in the Groult collection, Paris; the Capel-Cure collection, Badger Hall, England; and in the museum at Angers.

Max Goering. Letter. April 1938, calls it a sketch for the decoration of the guardroom ("Sala de las Guardias") in the royal palace, Madrid.

Hermann W. Williams Jr. "Tiepolo and His Contemporaries." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 33 (March 1938), p. 65.

M[ax]. Goering in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 33, Leipzig, 1939, pp. 151, 153.

Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, p. 286, ill., calls it a sketch for the queen's antechamber in the royal palace; discusses the iconography.

Jean Cailleux. Tiepolo et Guardi. Exh. cat., Galerie Cailleux. Paris, 1952, p. 51, under no. 47.

F[rancisco]. J[avier]. Sánchez Cantón. J. B. Tiepolo en España. Madrid, 1953, p. 17, pl. 14, notes that it is a sketch for the Saleta in the Palacio Real, Madrid; dates it before a second sketch formerly in the Van Dieman Gallery, Berlin (now MMA, 1980.363).

Antonio Morassi. G. B. Tiepolo: His Life and Work. London, 1955, p. 150, calls it one of two sketches for the ceiling of the Saleta.

Paul Wescher. La prima Idea: Die Entwicklung der Ölskizze von Tintoretto bis Picasso. Munich, 1960, p. 51.

Antonio Morassi. A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings of G. B. Tiepolo. London, 1962, pp. 21, 33, 37, fig. 320, dates it about 1764.

Goya and His Times. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts. London, 1963, pp. 4–5, no. 6.

Juan Antonio Gaya Nuño. Pintura Europea Perdida por España de Van Eyck a Tiépolo. Madrid, 1964, p. 92, no. 320.

Anna Pallucchini in L'opera completa di Giambattista Tiepolo. Milan, 1968, p. 132, no. 279d, ill. p. 130, calls it a first idea for the composition, referring to the other sketch (MMA 1980.363) as the true modello.

Winifred Friedman. "A Tiepolo Attribution Problem." Fogg Art Museum Acquisitions (1968), p. 64 n. 15.

Claus Virch. "Dreams of Heaven and Earth: Giambattista and Domenico Tiepolo in the Wrightsman Collection." Apollo 90 (September 1969), pp. 175, 178, states that the final ceiling fresco contains elements from both sketches.

J[ames]. Byam Shaw. "The Biron Collection of Eighteenth-Century Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum." Metropolitan Museum Journal 3 (1970), p. 239, finds it difficult to determine which sketch came first.

Oil Sketches by 18th Century Italian Artists from New York Collections. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. [New York], 1971, p. 9, no. 29, believes it to be the later of the two sketches, since it has more details in common with the final fresco.

Aldo Rizzi. Mostra del Tiepolo. Exh. cat., Villa Manin di Passariano. Vol. [1], "Dipinti."[Milan], [1971], fig. 80.

Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 197, 488, 607.

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. 58–59, pl. 64, call it the first sketch; discuss the iconography in detail.

Everett Fahy in The Wrightsman Collection. Vol. 5, Paintings, Drawings. [New York], 1973, pp. 253, 255, fig. 5, finds it impossible to determine which of the two sketches was painted first, stating that "it is most likely that ideas from both sketches were utilized simultaneously in the ceiling fresco and that its composition is essentially an amalgam of the two sketches".

Michael Levey. Giambattista Tiepolo: His Life and Art. New Haven, 1986, pp. 263–64, 295 n. 11, agrees that the chronological sequence of the two sketches cannot be determined; states that "neither can claim to be in itself the 'modello'" and that "for the composition of the ceiling, Tiepolo perhaps eventually utilized them both, and both may have been submitted to the King as preliminary ideas".

Jesús Urrea in Venezia e la Spagna. Milan, 1988, p. 242, fig. 241.

Beverly Louise Brown. Giambattista Tiepolo: Master of the Oil Sketch. Exh. cat., Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth. Milan, 1993, pp. 310, 312, no. 56, ill. pp. 135 (color), 310, mentions two early sources that give a detailed explanation of the iconography of the ceiling; believes that the two sketches were probably made simultaneously and both shown to the king as alternative approaches to the subject, and that the king then requested a combination of motifs from each for the final fresco.

George Knox. "Giambattista Tiepolo at Fort Worth." Apollo 139 (December 1993), p. 403, notes that it is difficult to say whether this is "a working 'bozzetto' or the final 'modello'".

Massimo Gemin and Filippo Pedrocco. Giambattista Tiepolo: i dipinti, opera completa. Venice, 1993, pp. 200, 488–89, no. 518a, ill.

Rodolfo Pallucchini. La pittura nel Veneto: il Settecento. Vol. 1, Milan, 1995, pp. 470–71, fig. 736, calls it a first idea, and refers to the other as the definitive sketch.

Keith Christiansen et al. in Giambattista Tiepolo, 1696–1770. Ed. Keith Christiansen. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1996, pp. 286, 328–30, 332–33, no. 54a, ill. (color) [Italian ed., "Giambattista Tiepolo, 1696–1996," Milan, 1996, pp. 286, 326, 329–30, 332–33, no. 54a, ill. (color)], finds that "what is remarkable is not that two, alternative 'modelli,' each with its own emphasis and compositional dynamics, should have been produced, but that the final ceiling should incorporate elements of both and, at the same time, introduce completely new features".

Giuseppe Pavanello. Canova collezionista di Tiepolo. Monfalcone, 1996, pp. 10, 65 n. 6, ill. p. 15, identifies it as one of four modelli mentioned in a letter to Canova from his agent, Tonioli Moscheni, of April 27, 1793, as available for purchase from Giandomenico Tiepolo.

Chantal Eschenfelder. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1696–1770. Cologne, 1998, p. 133.

Jean-Pierre Babelon and Nicolas Sainte Fare Garnot. Les fresques de Tiepolo. Exh. cat., Musée Jacquemart-André. Paris, 1998, pp. 105, 141, 145, mistakenly illustrates the other version (p. 104, color) in place of this one.

William L. Barcham. "'E chi non potrebbe cantare facilmente Febo?'." Giambattista Tiepolo nel terzo centenario della nascita. Ed. Lionello Puppi. Padua, 1998, vol. 1, pp. 255–56, 258 n. 11; vol. 2, p. 93, fig. 1.

Andrea Kirsh and Rustin S. Levenson. Seeing Through Paintings: Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies. New Haven, 2000, p. 272 n. 6, refer to this work or 1980.363.

Filippo Pedrocco. Giambattista Tiepolo. Milan, 2002, pp. 305–7, no. 277/2.a, ill.

Everett Fahy in The Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, pp. 98–99, fig. 1.

Xavier F. Salomon in Giambattista Tiepolo: "il miglior pittore di Venezia". Ed. Giuseppe Bergamini et al. Exh. cat., Villa Manin di Passariano. Codroipo, 2012, p. 249, no. 46, ill. (color).

Filippo Pedrocco in Giambattista Tiepolo: "il miglior pittore di Venezia". Ed. Giuseppe Bergamini et al. Exh. cat., Villa Manin di Passariano. Codroipo, 2012, p. 33, ill. pp. 145–46 (color, overall and detail).

Andrés Úbeda de los Cobos. The Artist at Court: Giandomenico Tiepolo and His Fantasy Portraits. Exh. cat., Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao. n.p., 2014, p. 34, fig. 15 (color).

Abraham Villavicencio García et al. La monarquía hispánica en el arte. Exh. cat., Museo Nacional de Arte. Mexico City, 2015, pp. 312, 375, no. 47, ill. pp. 24, 91 (color, overall and detail).

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