The genesis of this genre by the Tiepolo is somewhat unclear, but it has been suggested that at least some of the heads were painted by Giambattista as part of a specific commission, circa 1757, before both father and son left Venice to work in Würzburg.1 Giandomenico was to use his father’s compositions as the basis for a series of engravings, the Raccolta di Teste, published in 1774 after his father’s death, as well as for his own paintings. Both father and son were working on the compositions over a period of years. Indeed, the project of the engravings was already begun but not complete in 1758, when Giandomenico wrote to the famous French connoisseur Pierre-Jean Mariette who wished to acquire a set.2
While some of Giandomenico’s painted heads of bearded men are derived from the compositions which are represented in the Raccolta, the present would appear to be his own invention, probably dating to sometime between 1762-1770, while he was still in Spain and actively working on the prints. Stylistically, a good comparison is the Head of a Philosopher in the Art Institute, Chicago (inv. 1945.175), which has been dated 1758/64. Another version of the Chicago picture has been recently exhibited at the Fundaciόn Juan March, Madrid, where it was dated to circa 1768, during Giandomenico’s soujourn in Madrid.3
1. G. Knox, Domenico Tiepolo: Raccolta di teste, Udine, 1970.
2. “Quando sarà terminata la racolta delle teste, che procurarò che siano il n.o di 40, con il ritrato del Sig.r Padre, perché così Lei hà progettato piacer d’averlo, e vi saranno una meza decina di donne, allora li fisarò un prezzo onesto e conveniente...[When the series of heads will be finished, that I suppose will be about 40 in number with the portrait of my esteemed Father, because you have expressed interest in having it, there will be about a half dozen of women, and so I will put a fair and reasonable price on them]” in a letter from Giandomenico Tiepolo to Mariette, dated 21 June 1758, see I Tiepolo: Virtuosismo e Ironia, 1988, p. 31. In the end, there were no female portraits included in the Raccolta, although numerous painted ones by both father and son have survived.
3. Giandomenico Tiepolo (1727-1804) Diez Retratos de Fantasía, 2012, exhibition catalogue, pp.24-25, cat. no 2, illus.
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