The Circle of Tiepolo

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on March 27, 2010

From the cultura italia site:

Bortoloni, Piazzetta, Tiepolo: il ‘700 Veneto
Pinacoteca di Palazzo Roverella, Rovigo, 30 January — 13 June 2010

Mattia Bortoloni "Giunone chiede a Eolo di liberare i venti"

Finally, a major exhibit to ‘reveal’ Mattia Bortoloni, juxtaposing Piazzetta, Tiepolo, Balestra, Ricci and other greats from 18th-century Veneto. Some only know him for a Guinness-type work: the widest single fresco of all times and places – 5,500 square meters of delicate painting covering the entire, enormous elliptical dome, the largest in the world, of the Vicoforte Sanctuary, in Piedmont. A colossal work, more or less the dimension of an entire football field, considered the masterpiece of the Piedmontese Baroque period, frescoed in celebration of the Blessed Virgin, while at the same time, glorifying the House of Savoy.

Mattia Bortoloni (Canda di Rovigo, 1696 – Bergamo, 1750), famous, and quite sought-after during his lifetime, then faded into oblivion, considered ‘merely’ one of the best of Giovan Battista Tiepolo’s assistants, to the point that in not a few of the great master’s most celebrated pieces, it is to this day difficult to distinguish which brushstrokes to credit to which artist.

Over the last twenty years, more and more detailed studies have brought about a rediscovery of the breadth of Bortoloni’s own talent. Today it is possible to say, without qualifications, that he was an extraordinary and rather original artist, “suffocated” during his lifetime and by his notoriety as an assistant to the titans of 18th-century artists from the Veneto region, from the Veronese Balestra (who was his teacher) to Tiepolo himself. This major exhibit, entitled Bortoloni, Piazzetta and Tiepolo: 18th-Century Veneto will offer a selection of Bortoloni’s masterpieces juxtaposed with around thirty extraordinary works by Pellegrini, Piazzetta, Ricci and Tiepolo, the ‘titans’ of 18th-century Veneto.

Giambattista Pittoni "Diana e le ninfe"

Among the masterpieces on display, some early works by Tiepolo are worth special mention, including the Glory of St. Dominic and the Temptations of St. Anthony, next to essays into mythological subjects such as Diana and Actaeon and The Judgement of Midas, made available courtesy of the Galleries of the Academy of Venice. Of Piazzetta to be displayed is a rather moving altar piece depicting The Ecstasy of St. Francis, a work on loan from the Civic Museum of Vicenza, next to an early attempt by Sebastiano Ricci depicting Hercules at the Crossroads, on loan from the historic Palazzo Fulcis in Belluno. By Giambattista Pittoni are two works placed next to each other, the first inspired by the tales by Torquato Tasso depicting Olindo and Sofronia and, also of 17th-century layout, the second, Diana and the Nymphs, which shows an already rocailles flavour.

Giambattista Tiepolo "Digntario della Serenissima"

By Bortoloni’s teacher, Antonio Balestra, will be exhibit a never-before-seen Nativity and two extraordinary paintings, on loan from the Benedictine monastery of St. Paul of Argon, following a lengthy restoration project. The exhibit will be further enhanced by a valuable sketch section featuring works by the greatest fresco artists of the 18th century: besides Tiepolo (Giambattista and Giandomenico), Piazzetta and Bortoloni himself, as well as Diziani, Crosato Fontebasso Guarana, who were the great followers of this art form in later years. For the first time, completing this snapshot of the group is one of the key players, unduly forgotten for many years: Mattia Bortoloni, around whom this major exhibit pivots.

Bortoloni was a revered artist, so much so that at just twenty years of age he earned a much sought-after commission – that of frescoing the interior of Villa Cornaro in Piombino Dese, one of Palladio’s masterpieces. An undertaking in which he, albeit extremely tender in years, wisely anticipated the rococo style, which his friend in later years,
Giovanbattista Tiepolo, would then articulate with aplomb.

Light and shadow accompanied his extensive career in which, together with others but often alone, saw his busy with a kind of tunnel-vision (even for those days) with major works in Venice, and throughout the Regions of Veneto, Lombardy and Piedmont. Among his masterpieces are the series of frescoes at the Cathedral of Monza, for the Sanctuary of the Consolata (“The Consoled”), and for Palazzo Barono in Turin, for Palazzo Clerici and Palazzo Dugnani in Milan, Villa Vendramin Calergi in Fiesso Umbertino, Villa Albrizzi in Preganziol, Villa Raimondi in Birago di Lentate and Visconti-Citterio in Brignano d’Adda, the Venetian Churches of Saints John and Paul, and of St. Nicholas in the Tolentini, Ca’ Sceriman and Ca’ Rezzonico, also in Venice, through to his unquestionable masterpiece, the formidable series for the Vicoforte Sanctuary, more than five-thousand square meters of the finest fresco for the world’s largest elliptical dome.

In addition to his work as a fresco painter, Bortoloni was also a wonderful historical-painting artist, works in which storytelling ability goes hand in hand with original interpretive skill. For obvious reasons, this important production was the first to be delved into at the highly anticipated exhibit at Palazzo Roverella. These are works often being studied for the first time, with credits and attributions assigned for the first time as well, pieces never before shown to the public (and others that are ordinarily quite difficult to access), works that restore Bortoloni to a well-deserved prominence, which he enjoyed during his life, before being eclipsed by the magnificence of Tiepolo’s art work.

Catalogue available from Artbooks.com

In this panels, Bortoloni proves himself an inspired and original painter. These are compositions that are laid out in an anti-academic way, ironic and sometimes irreverent, which unquestionably ran against the grain with respect to the era’s other sacred painting. The piece with St. Thomas of Villanova of the Concordi Academy represents, in this light, one of Bortoloni’s highest accomplishments. Bortoloni, indeed, marked the passage from the late 17th century tradition, well ahead of his time even with respect to the great Tiepolo and – as demonstrated by the two historical paintings with the Adoration of the Magi and of the Shepherds of Fratta Polesine – much in line with Pittoni and Ricci’s innovations.

Exhibition Catalogue: Alessia Vedova and Fabrizio Malachin, eds., Bortoloni Piazzetta Tiepolo: il ‘700 veneto (Milan: Silvana, 2010), 255 pages, ISBN: 978883661503, €30 / $59.

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