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Sacred Eloquence

Giambattista Tiepolo and the Rhetoric of the Altarpiece


Johanna Fassl

This book offers an innovative approach to the altarpieces of Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770) by discussing them within the intellectual context of the first half of the eighteenth century. Tiepolo occupies a particular position in the history of art: firmly embedded in the eighteenth century, he is one of the last great painters of the classical tradition, and, at the same time, one of the precursors of modernity.
Why has Tiepolo’s religious art often been misunderstood? How can the abbreviation and absence of key symbols in the images be explained and why is this rhetoric of absence so utterly modern? Deliberately concentrating on what is not painted, rather than what is in the picture, the book deals with Tiepolo’s lacunism as an eighteenth-century phenomenon anticipating modernity. It discusses four different forms of rhetoric: iconic, narrative, silent, and visionary. Each discourse calibrates the images within their contemporary religious and philosophical context, which promote this type of rhetoric as highly innovative.


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Poetic Rhetoric: The “Discovery of the True Homer” Painted Rhetoric: Mercury at Ca’ Sandi Francesco Algarotti’s statement on the power of pictorial rhetoric finds its full expression in Tiepolo’s first Venetian commission in fresco of profane subject matter;1 the ceiling of the great hall in Ca’ Sandi at Sant’Angelo.2 The Sandi were one of Venice’s most im- portant families of lawyers, and the soffitto, painted between 1724 1 “Si direbbe che i quadri, i quali, secondo il detto comune, sono i libri degl’ignoranti, egli prendesse a fargli leggere anche ai dotti, facendogli par- lare allo intelletto e allo spirito. Si direbbe ch’egli abbia inteso di giustifica- re in certa maniera Quintiliano, là dove afferma maggiore della forza che hanno sopra di noi gli artifizi della retorica, esser la forza della pittura” (ALGAROTTI 1969d, 399). 2 On the Sandi ceiling, see DA CANAL 1809, pp. xxxii–xxxiii; MOSCHINI 1815, vol.1, p. 603; SELVATICO and LAZARI (no date), p. 434; MOLMENTI 1909, p. 54; SACK 1910, p. 153; ARSLAN 1935–36, p. 250; MORASSI 1942, pp. 259–267; MORASSI 1943, pp. 15–16; IVANOFF 1951, pp. 70–72; MO- RASSI 1955a, pp. 15–16; MORASSI 1955b, pp. 4–7; MORASSI 1962, pp. 60– 61, 69; PALLUCCHINI 1968, no. 32; PRECERITTI GARBERI 1971, pp. 16–18; BRAHAM 1981, p. 72; AIKEMA 1986, pp. 167–171; LEVEY 1986, pp. 23– 28; BARCHAM 1989, p. 56; BARCHAM 1992, no. 2; KNOX 1993, pp. 135– 145; GEMIN and PEDROCCO 1993, no. 65; DEININGER 1995, Chapter...

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