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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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The Eye of the Intellect: The Vision of Saint Roch 304


Sacred Eloquence 304 boundary of the image that is left open. The Camerino picture is neatly framed through the painted architecture; the image is intrin- sically enclosed within the narrative event. The blankness of the upper section in the Vision of Saint John Nepomuk, on the other hand, creates a particular iconicity: that of providing a screen for the beholder to project his own emotions into the work. It func- tions like the night in the Paduan Rest on the Flight into Egypt or the blank faces of Tiepolo’s Orientals, where the beholder is invited to both meditate on his own response to the image and project his own emotions into it. This luminous screen, in fact, has replaced the cloud in its function as a lacuna within the picture. The cloud is the key figurative object of another type of art, which is located at the opposite extreme to that of perspective painting proposed by Alberti.61 It is devoid of materiality, mutating, ever changing, metamorphosing from one appearance to another. The cloud thus escapes concise delineation and is the form par excellence that invites reverie and the play of the imagination.62 In semantic terms, it is an Unbestimmtheitsstelle, a lacuna, which produces a suggestive stimulus, soliciting us to draw from our knowledge and to complete the missing information.63 It is an invitation to pause and reflect on the experience in front of the altarpiece. The Eye of the Intellect: The Vision of Saint Roch Upon analyzing her visions, Fialetta...

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