Tiepolo’s War-Destroyed Ceiling Paintings Displayed At The Frick

By Penny Zhou

When we talk about ceiling paintings, or frescoes, the first thing that comes to mind is probably Michelangelo and his iconic “Creation of Adam,” which has become so famous that some may not even know of any other fresco artists.

But that doesn’t mean that such a person doesn’t exist.

“Tiepolo was really one of the greatest fresco painters of all times,” Xavier F. Salomon, curator of The Frick Collection’s exhibition “Tiepolo in Milan: The Lost Frescoes of Palazzo Archinto” told NTD. “He is one of the greatest fresco painters of the 18th century, one of the greatest Italian artists.”

Giambattista Tiepolo Perseus and Andromeda, ca. 1730–31, Oil on canvas 20 3/8 × 16 inches (Courtesy to The Frick Collection)
Giambattista Tiepolo’s preparatory oil painting “Perseus and Andromeda” for the Milan fresco. (The Frick Collection)

The Italian painter Giambattista Tiepolo was born roughly 200 years after Michelangelo and painted in the theatrical and ornamental “Rococo” style.

“He frescoed great ceilings in Venice, in the northern region of Italy, but also in Germany, in Spain, and in other countries in Europe,” Salomon said.

Among his most notable works are a series of ceiling paintings he did for an Italian palace called Palazzo Archinto in Milan, where Tiepolo featured mythological scenes, including the Greek hero Perseus saving the princess Andromeda from the sea monster, and the solar god Apollo warning his son Phaëton of the danger of riding the Sun Chariot.

Giambattista Tiepolo Apollo and Phaëton, ca. 1730–31 Oil on canvas 25 1/4 × 18 3/4 inches Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Gift of The Ahmanson Foundation (Courtesy to The Frick Collection )
Giambattista Tiepolo’s preparatory oil painting “Apollo and Phaëton”, ca. 1730–31, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Gift of The Ahmanson Foundation (The Frick Collection )
Giambattista Tiepolo Triumph of the Arts and Sciences, ca. 1730–31 Oil on canvas 21 7/8 × 28 3/8 inches Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon Photo: © Direção-Geral do Património Cultural / Arquivo de Documentação Fotográfica (DGPC/ADF) / photo Luisa Oliveira
Giambattista Tiepolo’s preparatory oil painting “Triumph of the Arts and Sciences” for the Milan fresco, ca. 1730–31, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon. (© Direção-Geral do Património Cultural / Arquivo de Documentação Fotográfica (DGPC/ADF) / Luisa Oliveira)

“He really creates convincing scenes of the visions of heaven on the ceilings… and transmits this sort of sense of glory and magnificence in a really wonderful way,” Salomon said, “He is an incredible artist. I think he is somewhat unpopular these days because people like more minimal things, and things that are more in sync with our times. But I think 18th century artists are fantastic.”

But the unfortunate reality is that the frescoes were bombed and destroyed by the Allies during World War II.

Unknown photographer Palazzo Archinto after bombing in August 1943, 1948 Photograph 6 7/8 x 9 1/4 inches Azienda di Servizi alla Persona Golgi-Redaelli, Milan Photo: Su autorizzazione dell’Azienda di Servizi alla Persona Golgi-Redaelli di Milano
Palazzo Archinto after bombing in August 1943, 1948 (Su autorizzazione dell’Azienda di Servizi alla Persona Golgi-Redaelli di Milano/The Frick Collection)

The Frick Collection in New York City displays the frescoes’ preparatory oil to help the public imagine the striking beauty of the original works.

“I think what the exhibition brings along is that sadness of the fact that these objects are destroyed somewhere within the last 100 years. These things are destroyed in 1943 so fairly recently,” Salomon said. “The show is to meant to celebrate these frescoes, but also make us realize how fragile these works of art are. Things can be destroyed very easily. And we have very little evidence of how it looks even though it was destroyed as recent as 1943.”

The show marks the first ever reunion of these preparatory works of Tiepolo. It’s open to the public until July 14th.