'Tiepolo offers a vision of life that incorporates transience and mortality within love and beauty. I find this painting as moving as anything by Titian or Rembrandt.’
An Allegory with Venus and Time, 1754, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770), 115in by 75in, National Gallery, London
Michael Hall chooses An Allegory with Venus and Time
‘I read Michael Levey’s wonderful book Painting in Eighteenth-Century Venice when it was published in 1980 and was entranced by his chapter on Tiepolo, a new name to me.
‘An Allegory with Venus and Time appeared on the jacket, so I went to see it at the National Gallery.
‘Father Time gently receives a newborn baby from Venus. The child, who stands for all of us, gazes out with an unforgettable mixture of curiosity and apprehension. With the lightest of touches, Tiepolo offers a vision of life that incorporates transience and mortality within love and beauty. I find this painting as moving as anything by Titian or Rembrandt.’
Michael Hall is editor of The Burlington Magazine, which, this month, launched its free online journal, Burlington Contemporary.
John McEwen on An Allegory with Venus and Time
This picture was ‘discovered’ by the art historian, dealer and critic David Carritt in 1964, when it hung in the dining room of Egypt’s London Embassy. It was not, as the publicity suggested, unknown; indeed, Sir Francis Watson, the art historian, museum director and Belgravia house-sharer with 87 cats, ‘fizzed with rage’ at the suggestion.
Tiepolo was the youngest of the six children of a Venetian shipping merchant. The name was one of Venice’s oldest, but the family had no noble antecedents, although some of the children had noble godparents.
He was one when his father died and 14 when he became a pupil of a local painter, Gregorio Lazzarini, but Veronese was his greatest influence. He married a noblewoman, Maria Cecilia Guardi, sister of the Guardi brother painters, and they had nine children; Domenico and Lorenzo became his assistants.
Tiepolo excelled at fresco painting – paint applied on wet plaster. His ‘sureness of touch and instinctive draughtsmanship’ suited the medium’s prohibition of revision and his ‘jaunty romantic air’ was ‘in the best tradition of Venetian painting which had always been unlearned’ (Michael Levey).
By 1750, Tiepolo was famous throughout Europe. This oil painting was commissioned by the Venetian Contarini family, perhaps to celebrate the birth of an heir.
The Three Graces, daughters of Jupiter, symbolising Beauty, Charm and Elegance, strew roses. Father Time holds the child. Cupid, son of the love goddess Venus, hovers in attendance. Time’s scythe lies idle, its blade before the glimpsed globe.
Sir Howard Hodgkin (1932–2017) completed the picture’s re-appreciation when he persuaded the National Gallery to hang it overhead. It is currently not on view.
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