Baroque and Rococo

 

Baroque and Rococo Art Map





see collection:


Giovanni Battista (Giambattista) Tiepolo


 

 

 




GIAMBATTISTA TIEPOLO




Frescoes in the Wurzburg Residenz


(1750-1752)
 


Apollo and the Continents (America)

1752-53
Fresco
Stairwell of the Residenz, Würzburg


 

Apollo and the Continents (Africa)

1752-53
Fresco
Stairwell of the Residenz, Würzburg


 

Apollo and the Continents (Africa)

1752-53
Fresco
Stairwell of the Residenz, Würzburg


 

Apollo and the Continents (Asia)

1752-53
Fresco
Stairwell of the Residenz, Würzburg


 

Apollo and the Continents (Asia)

1752-53
Fresco
Stairwell of the Residenz, Würzburg


 

Apollo and the Continents (Europe)

1752-53
Fresco
Stairwell of the Residenz, Würzburg


 

Apollo and the Continents
(detail)
1752-53
Fresco
Stairwell of the Residenz, Würzburg
 


__________

__________


 


Giambattista Tiepolo:
 


The Death of Hyacinthus, 1752-1753



Tennis with Apollo




(Rose-Marie & Rainer Hagen)
 


According to tradition, the Greek god Apollo, in a sporting competition with his lover, injured him fatally with a discus. A German ruler and connoisseur of fine art, Count Wilhelm zu Schaumburg-Lippe (1724-1777), commissioned an unusual rendering of the story from the Venetian artist Tiepolo. The painting suggests that Apollo's friend fell victim, not to a discus, but to a tennis ball that was travelling too fast. The canvas, measuring 287 x 235 cm, is in the possession of the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

 

Giambattista Tiepolo
The Death of Hyacinth
1752-53
Oil on canvas, 287 x 235 cm
Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid

 

 

A youthful body with pale gleaming skin lies draped in decorative abandon on shimmering silk. For all its tender-seemine femininity, the body, painted by Giambat-tista Tiepolo, belongs to a man - the dying lover of the god Apollo.
Most art historians assume the artist arranged the scene - showing the fatally wounded Hyacinthus, Apollo's favourite -at some time in 1752 or 1753; the painting itself is undated. By the mid-18th century, the Venetian was one of the most famous artists in Europe: his use of light, his radiant colours and evident pleasure in idealized figural beauty were exactly what contemporary art lovers and buyers cherished.
Tiepolo did not paint the sensuously reclining youth in Venice - nor, indeed, under southern skies. Prince-Bishop Carl Philipp von Greiffenclau had enticed the artist to Wurzburg with an enormous fee, commissioning him to decorate with frescos the residential palace built by Balthasar Neumann. "Al fresco" paints were applied to a ground of fresh plaster, a process which, at that time, could only be carried out in the warmer summer months. During the winter months of his three-year stay at Wurzburg, Tiepolo therefore designed the cartoons for his murals, as well as executing various works at his easel: alterpieces, love scenes based on literary texts, mythologies.

The Death of Hyacinthus was not painted for the Catholic Prince-Bishop, however, but for a Protestant count who lived even further north, Wilhelm zu Schaumburg-Lippe. In a catalogue of the Count's paintings the work is listed as having been bought directly from the artist for 200 Venetian "zecchini" in gold.
Neither the Prince-Bishop of Wurzburg nor the Count zu Schaumburg-Lippe were among the more influential German rulers; they could not compete with the rulers of Prussia, Saxony, Austria or Bavaria. Nor were they financially powerful. This can be illustrated in demographic terms: a large town might contain some 100,000 residents, whereas Wurzburg had 14,000 and Buckeburg a mere 1600 inhabitants. The destination of Tiepolo's Hyacinthus consisted mainly of its castle and those employed there, including the workmen and tradesmen who provided services for the Count and his entourage.
Compared to Buckeburg, Wurzburg was a thriving metropolis with a magnificently wealthy prince as sovereign. The respective fees paid to Tiepolo illustrate the difference: 200 zecchini against 30,000 Rhenish gulden. For this handsome sum Tiepolo decorated Wurzburg's Kaisersaal, painting a dramatic history of the town's Catholic princedom, while the ceiling above the grand staircase shows a monumental cosmology comprising the four continents. The figures of Apollo, Mars and Venus appear against a cloud background, while the hub of the universe is a resplendent portrait of Herr von Greiffenclau himself.
Several motifs used at Wurzburg recur in the painting that went to Buckeburg. The pediment broken by a ball on a plinth is found in the background of "Europe" at Wurzburg; the parrot features in "America", while the long robe with double stripes worn by the elderly man is found in "Africa" and "Asia". In the Kaisersaal at Wurzburg Hyacinthus' head, seen from an identical angle, belongs to a trumpeter, albeit one whose eyes are open.
The recurrent use of identical motifs was not seen as self-plagiarism, but was considered normal practice at the time. Artists constantly rearranged their stock of set-pieces, according to context or contract. In Wurzburg the artist's task was to present the historic town and its present ruler to their best advantage. In the case of the Buckeburg painting, however, now in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, the relationship of picture to patron was of an entirelv different order.

 

 


A god plagued by dreadful guilt
 

 

Giambattista Tiepolo
The Death of Hyacinth

(detail)

 

Wilhelm Graf zu Schauburg-Lippe was c. 28 years old when the painting was executed. He was born in 1724 in London, where his father held high office at the court of the Hanoverian kings George I and George II. He grew up at Buckeburg, however, where he was educated, as was customary for someone in his position, by a private tutor, a church minister. He studied at Geneva and Leyden, spoke French elegantly and German tolerably, and was a lover of music. He later employed Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach at Buckeburg. A lover of fine art from an early age, he had collected engravings by the French artist Jacques Callot while still a boy; fully grown, he sat for Joshua Reynolds, who portrayed him as a general.
The artistically-minded count, undoubtedly the recipient of an education in the classics, would naturally have known the Roman poet Ovid's Metamorphoses, whose 10th Book tells the story of Hyacinthus, the favourite of Apollo. The story finds them engaged in sport: "the god and the boy removed their garments, rubbed their bodies, till they gleamed, with rich olive oil, and began to compete with one another in throwing the discus." When Apollo hurled the discus to the clouds; Hyacinthus "ran forward without stopping to think, in a hurry to pick up the discus, but it bounced back off the hard ground, and rose into the air, striking him full in the face. The god grew as pale as the boy himself: he caught up Hyacinthus' limp frame ... - the wound was beyond any cure."
According to Ovid, the god, plagued by dreadful feelings of guilt, could not understand what he had done to deserve such loss. "Yet how was I at fault, unless taking part in a game can be called a fault, unless I can be blamed for loving you?" From the blood that gushed from the wound, Apollo caused a flower to spring, bearing the youth's name. "Still in what fashion you may you are immortal: as often as spring drives winter out... so often do you come up and blossom on the green turf."
Far from the whim of an artist, the subject of a painting was generally chosen by its patron. The young Count Wilhelm probably commissioned this one himself. But why? He may simply have been an admirer of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Goethe wrote that "nothing can be more stimulating to a young person's imagination than to linger in that fabulous, serene region where gods and goddesses share with us their deeds and passions ..."
However, it is equally possible that something more specific than the Pantheon had stimulated Wilhelm's imagination. To judge from his correspondence, Wilhelm had felt attracted to young men from an early age. At the age of twenty-two he described a young Hungarian as "his beloved Festetics" and "my other half". When Festetics was about to marry, Wilhelm advised him rather to die than wed a woman against his will. At approximately the same time, one of his father's friends, a woman, asked whether Wilhelm had maintained "safroideurpour les femmes", his coldness towards women.
Not long after this he eloped with a Viennese theatre belle, taking her with him to Venice. Once there, however, he lived not only with her, but with a Spanish master of music, entering a menage a trois which later shifted its focus to London. In a letter to his son, Wilhelm's father mentioned the Spaniard as "your friend Apollo". As ruling Count, Wilhelm tried to bring his Apollo to Buckeburg. The latter even agreed to come, but died in 1751, just before the present painting was executed.
 

 


A sport with deadly balls
 

Giambattista Tiepolo
The Death of Hyacinth

(detail)

 

 

Rather than competing at discus, Hyacinthus and Apollo in Tiepolo's painting have evidently been playing tennis, or - as it was often referred to at the time - jeu de paume. The artist, at least, suggests as much by showing a racket, balls and a net, instead of a discus, and placing the racket next to the flower growing out of Hyacinthus' blood.
Tennis balls were not soft and elastic -air-filled rubber balls -were not developed until the 19th century — but made of leather and filled with wool, hair, or even sand. They were hard and rather dangerous, and indeed frequently the cause of injury or even, on occasion, death. In 1751, Frederick Prince of Wales was hit so badly in the stomach by a tennis ball that he died of internal bleeding. Count Wilhelm, who maintained close relations with the English royal family, would naturally have heard the news.
Tennis was not played on a lawn, but indoors in a court. Nor were such courts designed to standard measurements. Those at the Louvre in Paris were 36 by 12 metres; other courts were half that size. The net was hung at breast-height, and the participants, like those in today's game of squash, played off the walls. Each court had an enclosed spectators' gallery, one of which is suggested at the top left of Tiepolo's painting.
Jeu de paume, or real tennis, was not, unlike riding, hunting or dancing, an accomplishment required of the young aristocrat, but it was nonethless "rightly included among those exercises designed to divert the mind and maintain good health", as a manual of 1742 advised.
In a different tract of the same period, we read: "The tennis court is a form of exercise for the nobility rather than the ordinary citizen, for it requires much money." It was therefore hardly a sign of disrespect if the artist portrayed the god Apollo engaging in a modern, aristocratic - rather than antique - sport.
However, the racket and ball bear a more direct relation to the patron, for one of Germany's 60 tennis courts was actually situated at the small castle of Buckeburg, and Wilhelm himself was an extraordinarily good player. At the age of twenty-two he reported from Dresden that the male members of the royal family, except for the king, who had been away from home at the time, had all watched him playing tennis, and that he had been urgently requested to stay until such time as the king, who would certainly want to play with him, had returned to Dresden: "I am told he is an excellent player, but I am sure you will understand that Festetics comes before all the kings in the world." Festetics was his Hungarian friend, to whom he wished to return as quickly as possible.
In Vienna, according to Wilhelm, the Emperor himself had watched him play, shouting: "Bravo, Comte de la Lippe!" A close friend confirmed to his father the young man's success: "His unusual strength and adroit mastery of the game of tennis have ... contributed much to the astonishment, approval and renown which he is accorded everywhere, and, indeed, have induced both the imperial majesties to watch and applaud his game ..."
 

 


Count Wilhelm ruins his reputation

 

 

Giambattista Tiepolo
The Death of Hyacinth

(detail)

 

 

Over their light clothing, 18th-century real tennis players wore "a broad belt of cloth fastened around the hips with two knots ... and no player goes without such a girdle, for its firm binding protects the body, especially the intestines and liver, against sudden movements and blows." This, at least, was the opinion expressed in a doctoral thesis submitted to the Medical Faculty of the University of Paris in 1745.
Long robes, of the type sported by Apollo, were commonly worn by antique or mythical figures in Tiepolo's paintings.
Hyacinthus' short, and rather tight, kilt, however, fastened about the ribs, is quite unique in this form. The artist has probably turned a contemporary tennis costume into a quasi-antique garment.
Hyacinthus' kilt is held by a broad belt whose ring is attached to the golden head of a satyr. A second satyr, in the form of a statue in the top right of the painting, grins down at Apollo and Hyacinthus. An identical statue appears in a further painting executed at Wurzburg, entitled Rinaldo under Armida's Spell, which also contains a parrot and broken pediment. However, the twofold appearance of a satyr in the present work can probably be no more attributed to accident than can the allusion to jeu de paume. The explanation may lie in Wilhelm's way of life. Satyrs, usually pictured with goats' horns, tails and hooves, ■were thought of as particularly wild types. Incapable of leading a civilized existence, they perpetually indulged in priapic excess, constantly insulting and shocking people.
This echoed Wilhelm's own behaviour. He was indeed the wildest of types, unconventional to the core.
He was locked up in England at the age of 18 for disobeying military regulations: for a wager, so it was said, he had ridden a horse from London to Edinburgh, sitting back to front in the saddle. Once, for fun, he had travelled the country dressed as a beggar. Several years later, in Vienna, he applied for a commission as colonel, and was refused by Empress Maria Theresia. Wilhelm thought it was because he was not a Catholic, but his ill repute was the more likely reason.
The genuine admiration he inspired as a tennis player did not help him much, and though he showed real bravery on one occasion by defending a friend against four attackers, the affair only made matters worse, for the friend was a rather unscrupulous character himself, with an equally bad reputation. When, finally, he eloped with a theatre belle, the mistress of a respected nobleman, Wilhelm was forced to flee Vienna.
Living with an actress and a Spanish conductor in Venice was hardly designed to improve his reputation. Furthermore, it was considered somewhat eccentric to employ a so-called marqueur as a personal cook. A marqueur was basically a kind of all-round tennis slave: a coach who doubled as ball-boy, opponent, umpire and court caretaker. Marqueurs were often also responsible for collecting the money from wagers taken before a tennis match.
The Count is known to have played in Venice in c. 1747. Unrestrained, as yet, by the burdens of office, the 23-year-old Wilhelm enjoyed the free and easy life of a gentleman of quality. He evidently gained a number of friends among the Venetian patricians, the influential family Grimani even dedicating a Carnival opera to him. It was in Venice, too, that he probably became acquainted with Tiepolo, possibly even discussing plans for the painting which Tiepolo later executed in Germany.

 

 


An enlightened despot
 

Giambattista Tiepolo
The Death of Hyacinth

(detail)

 

 

Apollo, one of Tiepolo's favourite deities, also appears in the palace at Wurzburg, where the artist has included him in two separate scenes. Apollo was god of light, and since light, brilliance and clarity maintain a powerful presence throughout Tiepolo's work, it is easy to see why he felt drawn to the deity. However, Apollo also personified the mood of 18th-century philosophy in the era of Enlightenment. In French, which at that time was the language of the educated, the link with Apollo is made clearer still: the Enlightenment was the "siecle des lumieres", the age of leading lights and of the enlightened. However, Apollo was also seen as god of the Muses, and Tiepolo's painting shows not only the victory of reason, the light of understanding, but also the triumph of the arts, of culture itself. To Wilhelm, both the Enlightenment and the arts were of equal importance: he employed one of Bach's sons as his court musician, bought paintings, did everything he could to keep Johann Gottfried Herder, the philosopher of history who prepared the ground for German Classicism, at Buckeburg, and was a keen follower of developments in philosophy and natural science. He also allowed the principles of the Enlightenment to guide him in governing his own, small land. Had he ruled over more than 15000 subjects, he undoubtedly would have been one of the outstanding German potentates of his time. As it was, Wilhelm went on to have an influential career as an artillery expert, became Commander-General of the Artillery of the Electorate of Hannover during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763) and then Commander-in-Chief of the Anglo-Portuguese army in the war against Spain.
His fame now depends largely on military scientific writings which he did not publish during his lifetime for fear of ridicule; the sovereigns of petty-princedoms were discouraged from thinking aloud beyond their station. Besides, his opinions would have been quite unacceptable to the military establishment of his day. Wilhelm declared the prevention of war to be the sole aim of all military strategy. A way of achieving this, according to the author, was to make one's defences strong enough to deter potential aggressors from risking an attack.
Apollo, crowned with a laurel wreath, was not only god of light and the arts, but also of beautv and youth. Since so many mortals - not only Hyacinthus - had met their end through him, his name was linked with death, too. Like the majority of educated people of his day, Wilhelm would have been well aware of the multi-faceted nature of this deity.
Wilhelm was a young man when he ordered the work from Tiepolo. It is therefore not difficult to imagine the feelings and memories that must have haunted him when, grown so much older, he contemplated the painting at Buckeburg in later years. Wilhelm died in 1777 at the age of 53. He was succeeded by his nephew. Whether coincidence or not, the man entrusted with administering Wilhelm's estate after his death bore the forename Hyazinthus.


see collection:


Giovanni Battista (Giambattista) Tiepolo

 

 

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