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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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Invisibilia per visibilia: The Apparition of the Virgin and Child to Saint Philip Neri 291


Metalanguage: Visions 291 In similar fashion, Vico suggests the following on fantasia and ingegno: the endowments of the young mind should be regulated and promoted, each one with the appropriate art: like memory with the study of lan- guages; fantasia with the reading of the poets, historians, and orators; and ingegno with linear geometry, which in a certain sense is a kind of painting that invigorates memory through the great number of its elements.38 The idea of an erudite imagination, a fantasia that evolves from the accuracy of knowledge, conjoins the traditional adversaries, namely reason and imagination. Both dreams and visions are not experi- enced and assembled with closed eyes, but during the act of read- ing, and the interior image is produced by learning rather than the sleep of reason. It derives from words read previously and pres- ently, from memory, the gathering of facts, and the reproduction of reproductions. It is constructed through the collaboration of reason and imagination, and can originate in both intellect and imagination. Invisibilia per visibilia: The Apparition of the Virgin and Child to Saint Philip Neri In the Vita Nuova, Dante makes a clear distinction between visions and apparitions. A visione refers to what happens while asleep, whereas an apparition is received while awake with the help of fan- guidati ne’ loro lavori; erano uomini ripuliti dalla educazione e dallo studio delle lettere, erano piuttosto compagni che servidori di que’ gran perso- naggi che valeansi dell’opera loro” (ALGAROTTI 1969d, pp. 385–386). 38...

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