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Sacred Eloquence

Giambattista Tiepolo and the Rhetoric of the Altarpiece

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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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The Sant’ Alvise Triad 209

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Muta Poesis: The Chorus 209 verum factum, that one can only know what he has made; they also participate in the active devotional life at Sant’Alvise, specifically in the practice of the silenziosa orazione mentale. The Sant’Alvise Triad Around 1735, Tiepolo painted three scenes from the Passion cycle for the church of Sant’Alvise in Venice. The Flagellation (plate 7) and the Crowning with Thorns (plate 8) are tall and narrow canvases, depicting the key events preceding Christ’s Crucifixion. The Way to Calvary (plate 9) is a large painting of almost horizontal format, representing Christ’s ascent to Mount Golgotha.16 Contemporaries and writers up the early twentieth century lauded them as some of Tiepolo’s masterpieces. 17 In fact, Francesco Zanotto, in his 1868 guide to the most praiseworthy paintings in Venetian churches, suggests that in order to appreciate Tiepolo “the great composer, learned draftsman, magical colorist, wise historian and profound 16 On the three canvases in Sant’Alvise, see: ALBRIZZI 1740, p. 171; ALBRIZ- ZI 1792, p. 239; ZANETTI 1771, p. 468; DRIUZZO 1845, p. 17, n.1; ZA- NOTTO 1858, no. 43; RUSKIN 1887, p. 30; MOLMENTI 1909, p. 66; SACK 1910, pp. 79–80, 157; FOGOLARI 1913, p. 22; GALLO 1939; MORASSI 1943, p. 23; MORASSI 1955a, pp. 16–17; PALLUCCHINI 1968, no. 104; BRUNEL 1991, pp. 117–19; LEVEY 1986, pp. 90–91; BARCHAM 1989, pp. 192, 229; BARCHAM 1992, p. 76; GEMIN and PEDROCCO 1993, nos.234– 236; ALPERS and BAXANDALL 1994, p. 171; CHRISTIANSEN 1996a, no. 31, pp. 112, 127,...

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