Sunday, April 14, 2019

Tiepolo in Milan: The Lost Frescoes of Palazzo Archinto

Yes, I am writing about a Frick Collection Exhibition again.  It’s not my fault if they keep doing interesting shows!  This one intrigued me because I wanted to find out how they found a lost fresco.

An important fact when studying Tiepolo … there were two of them: Giovanni Battista (called Giambattista) (1696-1770) and his son, almost as famous, Giovanni Domenico (known as Giandomenico) Tiepolo (1727-1804).  The subject is of particular interest to me as I have always loved the work of the both of the Tiepolos. Here, however we a dealing only with the work of Giambattista.

I was particularly curious about this exhibition’s subject because my gallery bought a ceiling fresco by Tiepolo about 60 years ago. Unfortunately, in the process of removal half of it came off on the canvas and the other half was left on the ceiling.  Even though this happened before I joined the firm, I was there for the tax examination when the Internal Revenue Service accused my family of collusion with Sotheby’s, because when we put the canvas at auction it brought so much less than we had paid, and we had claimed the loss on our tax return.  Yes, a totally ridiculous claim but I learned a lesson.   Our lawyers settled with the IRS.  As a young person I was furious.  This was crazy.  The lawyer, however, asked me would I prefer to pay the IRS X or their firm 3 times X to fight it!

The frescoes of the Palazzo Archinto were “lost” for a different reason.  The allies bombed the hell out of the Palace during World War II and there was nothing left to remove!  The Frick has attempted to put Humpty Dumpty together again or at least give us an idea of what we are missing today, The current  show brings together 50 works of art and artifacts relating to the ceiling frescos.  They include paintings, a number of preparatory drawings, photographs and books.  Together they give us an inkling of how sumptuous the palace must have been.

There is also a 160 page catalog.  Usually, a catalog is done in aid of an exhibition.  In this case I get the distinct impression that the exhibition was done to justify the publication.  There is an abundance of material in the catalog about the Archinto family with portraits of its principal members as well as works of art that had once belonged to the family.

I remember my first exposure to Tiepolo’s mastery of  ceiling painting was on a visit to Wurzburg when I was young, my mother called me just to tell me to be sure to go and see the ceiling in the Residenz. It was well worth the visit!

The five ceiling frescoes Tiepolo painted for the Palazzo Archinto, in Milan in 1730-31 was his first major commission outside of Venice.  How did this happen?  Milan had lots of artists of their own. The Archinto family had long been one of the city’s most prominent, renowned for their library and art collection.  They had commissioned book illustrations from Tiepolo and must have been aware of the impressive mural projects he was beginning to get from patrons in the Veneto.

Quite possibly members of the family had travelled to Venice and seen the frescos in a palace there such as The Triumph of Marius,  from the Palazzo Ca' Dolfin of 1729, now in The Metropolitan Museum.  Hiring a rising young star from Venice for the redecoration of their residence would have furthered their prestige.

In 1916 Henry Clay Frick bought his only work by Tiepolo and it was the painted sketch, modello, for the Archinto Perseus and Andromeda ceiling.  Thirty  years later the fresco was gone. So this show is a bit like seeing an old photo of a lost loved one.  It isn’t going to bring them back but it is a “souvenir”.  Here is the Frick “Perseus and Andromeda” sketch.

Photo by Michael Bodycomb

The ceilings were recorded in photographs before World War II and the Frick show includes a few rare images taken in 1897 lent by an archive in Milan.

Photo by Centelli & Molfese issued by
Azienda di Servizi alla Persona Golgi-Redaelli

Another of the 1897 photographs is shown with one of the most elaborate oil sketches “The Triumph of the Arts and Sciences, from the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga Lisbon.

Photo: Luisa Oliveira

Photo: Centelli & Molfese issued by
Azienda di Servizi alla Persona Golgi-Redaelli

The show will be up until July 14, Bastille day, but that is for another day and another place!

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