The close working relationship between father and son meant that Domenico often made copies after Giovanni Battista’s paintings and drawings; they also collaborated on many projects and commissions which meant their work was inextricably linked. Due to the exotic subject of the present character study it may relate to Giovanni Battista’s work at the Residence palace, Würzburg, an extensive and highly influential commission that occupied the artist between 1750 and 1753. A number of native American figures appear in the fresco, Allegory of America: Apollo and the Four Continents, painted over the cornice of the stairwell at Würzburg. At least two figures wearing very similar feathered headdresses are included in the fresco, one seen from behind, the other to the left, immediately above the crocodile, but neither corresponds exactly with the present drawing. All the same, the thematic connection with the Würzburg ceiling is indisputable, and the artist would surely have made many more related figure studies than those that correspond directly with figures in the final composition.
In his essay, ‘The Fiery and Poetic Fantasy of Giambattista Tiepolo’, Keith Christiansen aptly comments on Giovanni Battista’s interest in the exotic observing that his ‘love of exotic costume – whether used to introduce an element of festivity or strangeness (what contemporaries referred to as bizzarria) or simply to add another dimension to the story – is an intrinsic part of Tiepolo’s imagination: one well documented in his numerous drawings of individual figures and heads.’1 This bold and powerful study embodies Giovanni Battista’s vivid imagination and clearly demonstrates how he inspired his son to produce numerous character head studies of his own.
The present drawing came from the important group of Tiepolo drawings in the Bossi-Beyerlen collection. For a discussion of the contents and dispersal of this collection and an explanation of the numbering on the verso (which indicate their prices), see George Knox, op.cit., vol. I pp. 200-291.
1. Giambattista Tiepolo, exhib. cat., Venice, Museo del Settecento Veneziano Ca’Rezzonico; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996-1997, pp. 278-279
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