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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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Narrative: Historia The Importance of Novità Following his discussions on how to speak figuratively, Andrucci argues for novelty.1 A sentence should be marvelous by means of novelty, and above all the poet should avoid restating what others have already said. Thirty years before Andrucci, Muratori had called for innovation in similar terms in his treatise Della perfetta poesia italiana of 1706: […] the beauty of poesia consists in novelty and the marvelous, which emanate from the truth that the poet represents. This novelty, this marvel- ousness is a sweet light, which, understood by our intellect and specifically by our fantasia, can delight and ravish us.2 For both authors the essence of novelty – Andrucci even italicizes the term in order to highlight its importance – is found in ingegno 1 “Al verisimile della sentenza debbe esser congiunto il Mirabile: il che si otterà con una delle quattro guise seguenti. Primieramente diverrà quella maravigliosa mediante la novità, e intorno a ciò bisogna bene aver l’occhio a non contentarsi di qualunque concetto volgare, e a non ridire quei d’altri, come alcuni fanno, e non pochi. L’ingegno, e la Fantasia sono i due scopri- tori, o inventori della novità” (ANDRUCCI 1734, p. 163). 2 “Diciamo pertanto che il bello preciso della poesia consiste nella novità e nel meraviglioso che spira dalle verità rappresentate dal poeta. Questa no- vità, questo maraviglioso è un dolcissimo lume, il quale appreso dall’intelletto nostro e specialmente dalla fantasia, può dilettarci e rapirci” (MURATORI 1964a, p. 74). Muratori’s text was already finished in...

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