Sunday, December 6, 2015

From Father to Son: Influences Linger On

Children often have expectations placed upon them to "live up" to their parents. Sometimes, these are pressures put into place by the parent, a consistent desire to live up to their own legacy. Other times, however, these expectations are simply put into place by mere association; having descended from a success, the child, too, is expected to be successful. While it is uncertain which category Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo fell into, the expectations for him could not have been higher. Being the son of the renown artist, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Domenico was expected to carry on his father's legacy, who was very famous for his depictions of important Christian figures and somber scenes from the Bible. in 1755, however, a tipping point was reached, and the pressure caused Domenico Tiepolo to pursue something different. He painted “A Dance in the Countryside,” one of his most famous works of art, and his style was never the same. From that point on, Tiepolo refocused towards much more colorful, lively drawings that represented the happier, carefree aspects of life. Instead of depictions of solemn religious figures, he painted large, sunny courtyards, filled with dancers entertaining the masses. At first, this change seemed to be a permanent shift away from his father's signature style. Yet, is this entirely true? Did Domenico Tiepolo truly move to the opposite end of the "artistic spectrum" for good? Or were there elements of his father's paintings that remained, influencing Domenico's work to the end of his career?

The Saints of the family Crotta (1750, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Oil on Canvas, Stadel Museum)

One of Battista Tiepolo's most famous paintings, this depicts the moment of a family's conversion. Battista Tiepolo was commissioned by the Crotta family to produce a family portrait mixed with an old myth. The woman holding a head, St. Grata, was believed to be an ancestor of the Crottas, and was believed to be the one responsible for convincing the family to accept Christianity. This painting demonstrates Battista Tiepolo’s desire to produce paintings of “important” religious figures, a framework that Domenico Tiepolo would inherit and use for some time.

The Sacrifice of Isaac (Mid 1750s, Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, Oil on Canvas, 71.28)

Like his father, Domenico Tiepolo initially began by depicting somber religious characters and scenes. The color in this painting is particularly subdued to give a sense of weight and gravity to the situation at hand. The expressions worn by each character are also particularly important to note; not a single one is showing any real sign of emotion. This seeming emotionlessness was a defining aspect of Domenico Tiepolo's early work, and it is something that he would soon begin to break away from.

A Dance in the Countryside (1755, Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, Oil on Canvas, 1980.67)

Perhaps Domenico's most famous painting, this was a drastic shift away from his father's style. There are no somber religious figures, no important families, and no saints. Instead, the focus is on a lively dance party, with "commedia dell'arte" (a group of impromptu actors) commanding attention. The sheer amount of bright color is a drastic change of pace as well, with bright reds, yellows, and blues all at the front of the painting, It is speculated that Domenico Tiepolo was attempting to get as far away from his father's style of painting as possible when he created this. Perhaps more important than any of these, however, is the white hatted character in the background, named Punchinello. This character would reappear in Domenico's paintings for years to come.

The Minuet (1755, Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, Oil on Canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris)

Very much resembling A Dance in the Countryside, the postures of the actors in the center of the painting are strikingly similar to Tiepolo's past work. While there is still a very strong emphasis on having a crowded scene, there are a number of key differences between The Minuet and A Dance in the Countryside. The crowd is far less active than it was in A Dance in the Countryside, with most members of the audience preferring to simply sit and watch the actors as opposed to dancing with them, and the colors are much more subdued than before. The blue dress worn by the woman in the bottom right corner is particularly noticeable for how much darker it is, giving the impression that Tiepolo had not entirely given up on the much more subdued style of his father's artwork.

The Betrothal of the Virgin (1770, Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, Oil on Canvas, Pen in Brown Ink and Wash over Black Chalk on White Laid Paper, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975.1.514)

A seeming drastic change of form for Domenico Tiepolo, this painting was likely, in part, inspired by the death of his father in 1770. The absence of color contrasts with Domenico Tiepolo's work post 1755, and the decision to focus on an important Biblical scene, the marriage of Mary and Joseph, may have been a tribute to the types of paintings his father was most famous for. Domenico Tiepolo did add his own bit of artistic flair to this artwork, however, by making the characters appear far more lively and cheerful than they did in his father's work. The large crowd also reflects the work Domenico did in A Dance in the Countryside and The Minuet, giving this tribute painting to the father a personal touch from his son.

Punicello with the Ostriches (1800, Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, Pen in Brown Ink and Wash over 
Black Chalk on White Laid Paper, Allen Memorial Art Museum)

As time went on, Domenico Tiepolo drifted away from the brighter colors, and began to focus more and more on the antics of the character Punchinello. While the scene itself is hardly serious; Punchinello is attempting to wrangle an ostrich, the consistent lack of color is noteworthy, continuing over from The Betrothal of the Virgin. As time went on, Domenico Tiepolo's art began to reflect more and more aspects of his father's work, while still giving it a personal feel. The crowd in the background is considerably diminished as well, returning the focus towards the smaller scenes found in Battista Tiepolo's work and earlier paintings made by Domenico Tiepolo.

The Burial of Punicello (1800, Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, Pen in Brown Ink and Yellow Wash over Black Chalk, 1975.1.473)

Towards the end of his life, Domenico Tiepolo began to focus more on somber scenes. Here, Punchinello, one of the most consistent parts of his work, is being buried. Focusing on a somber moment over something more light hearted is significant in and of itself, but the type of burial Punchinello is undergoing is perhaps even more important. Being lowered into the ground like this was usually a manner reserved for saints, signifying a return to the religious aspects of Battista Tiepolo's works of art. In many ways, this is Domenico Tiepolo's career coming full circle; having transitioned from his father's style of somber paintings, to very lighthearted, crowded paintings, and now back again to serious drawings. 

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