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Sacred Eloquence

Giambattista Tiepolo and the Rhetoric of the Altarpiece

Series:

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 Chorus: The Spectator in the Picture 242

Extract

Sacred Eloquence 242 the disparate chorus, together with the figures’ mute faces, call for an explanation that goes beyond an indulgence in pure exoticism. The Chorus: The Spectator in the Picture The function of the spectator in the picture is to allow the be- holder a specific access to the picture. By adopting the internal spectator as his model, the beholder begins to imagine the repre- sented event from that person’s perspective. In this way the be- holder gains a different access to the content of the image, as he supplements his perception with the proceeds of the imagined standpoint. The spectator in the picture thus enriches the experi- ence of the beholder.77 In order to perform this function the spectator cannot be just any figure, but must be endowed with a sufficiently rich or instruc- tive inner life for anything to flow back from it into his own mind. Cogency and plenitude are the immediately relevant features. The imagined inner life of the internal spectator has to be sufficiently rich if the beholder is to benefit from it. In order to supply the richness, the painter has to endow the internal spectator with an expressive repertoire that will generate and, at the same time, con- conflict at Corfù. Just how ambitious Tiepolo’s Crossing was, however, is not clear. What has come down is a work of small size, possibly a bozzetto (37x75 cm); either the sketch or a larger version of the subject were exhib- ited at the Scuola....

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