Tiepolo in Udine

These past two decades have been good for those who adore the paintings of Giambattista Tiepolo. On the tercentenary of his birth in 1996 there was the great exhibition seen first at the Ca’ Rezzonico in Venice, where the atmosphere was of course more romantic, and then at the Metropolitan in New York, where it was of course much better hung and lit.

Now two shows have been staged at Udine, which understandably calls itself the Città di Tiepolo. “Giambattista Tiepolo” is at the Villa Manin in Passariano, about 25 minutes’ drive west of Udine, and “Giambattista Tiepolo and Paola Veronese” is in the Castello which looms over the central piazza in the city. Together they encourage a visitor to explore all the other work by the painter strewn around Udine, which may well may be the least known or frequented Italian city with such riches.

Tucked away in the far north east, close to what is now the border with Slovenia, and formerly the seat of the Patriarch of Aquileia, Udine has an appealing old centre (the modern outskirts are decidedly unappealing) with a flavor both of the Venetians, to whom it belonged for many centuries, and the Habsburgs, who ruled it for half a century after Waterloo. But its heyday was surely the time of Cardinal Daniele Dolfin. It was he who brought Giambattista Tiepolo there in 1759 to paint, inter alia, the walls and ceilings of his palace (now the Diocesan Museum in the Palazzo Arcivescovile) and the ceiling and altarpiece of the Oratorio della Purità, the exquisite little church, a converted theatre, in the shadow of the cathedral.

Among the highlights at the Villa Manin is “Alexander and Campaspe in the Studio of Apelles,” with Tiepolo cheekily painting himself as Apelles and his wife Cecilia Guardi (sister of the two painters Francesco and Giovanni) as Campaspe. In the old story, Apelles painted Campaspe, the mistress of Alexander the Great, which portrait so delighted Alexander that he presented her to the painter.

And the fascinating Castello exhibition, demonstrating without undue didacticism Veronese’s influence on Tiepolo, includes Veronese’s smaller painting of the “Finding of Moses” from Dijon, and then Tiepolo’s astonishing, huge canvass of the same scene, which normally lives in Edinburgh. Briefly reunited with the larger part, a substantial panel which was originally the right-hand end of painting, depicting a halberdier and mastiff looking on, was long ago lopped off and now belongs to the Agnelli family in Turin, where it is part of the Pinacoteca Agnelli’s collection. Since the Agnellis, with their fortune from Fiat motor-cars, are not short of art-works (or a soccer team), might it not be a gracious gesture if they presented the missing portion to Edinburgh?

In the catalog to the show 16 years ago, Keith Christiansen of the Metropolitan confessed to what his fellow authorities on the quattrocento might consider “a private vice”, a deep love of Tiepolo. But it was Proust who coined, for Odette’s dressing gown, the notion of “Tiepolo pink”, which is the title of Roberto Calasso’s recent book: if this is really a kinky vice, then some of us are at least in good naughty company.

“Giambattista Tiepolo and Paola Veronese” is on view at the Castello Udine through April 1, open Tuesday to Sunday, 10:30 AM—5 PM.

“Giambattista Tiepolo” is on view at the Villa Manin through April 7. For more information, please visit villamanin-eventi.it.

The Diocesan Museum and Tiepolo Gallery at the Palazzo Arcivescovile is open Monday to Friday, 9 AM—6 PM; Saturday and Sunday 9 AM—7 PM. For more information, please visit musdioc-tiepolo.it.

The Oratorio della Purità is open Monday to Friday, 10 AM—12 PM, 4 PM—6 PM; Saturdays 10 AM—12 PM; and Sundays 4 PM—6 PM.

Category: Exhibition
Udine Castle
Piazzale del Castello,
Udine, Italy