Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, a Venetian, was the greatest Italian Rococo painter; his style founded on the manner of the High Renaissance. 

Trained in Venice by Gregorio Lazzarini, Tiepolo was influenced by his near contemporaries, Piazzetta and Ricci; but is indebted above all to his predecessor Veronese. His imaginative, decorative frescoes are light in colour and airy in feel and he also executed many altarpieces.

In 1719, he married the sister of renowned artist, Francesco Guardi and in his early years worked in Udine (1726), Milan (1731-40) and Bergamo (1741-2); as well as Venice.

 In 1750, he moved with his sons Domenico and Lorenzo to Würzburg; to decorate the residence of the Prince-Bishop and returned to Venice in 1753. In 1755, he was elected Director of the Accademia, Venice.

His later works, quieter and less exuberant in character, were carried out in Spain, where he moved with his sons in 1762; to work for the Spanish monarchy and where in 1770, he died.



Giovanni Battista Tiepolo


Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

Self-portrait (1750–1753), from the ceiling fresco in the Würzburg Residence.

(b. March 5th 1696 – d. March 27th 1770).







EARLY LIFE (1696–1726)

Born in Venice, he was the youngest of six children of Domenico and Orsetta Tiepolo.

His father was a small shipping merchant, who belonged to a family that bore the prestigious patrician name of Tiepolo; without claiming any noble descent. Some of the children acquired noble godparents and Giovanni Battista was originally named after his godfather, a Venetian nobleman called Giovanni Battista Dorià.

He was baptised on 16 April 1696, in San Pietro di Castello the local church; which was still officially the cathedral of Venice. His father died about a year later, leaving his mother to bring up a family of young children; presumably in somewhat difficult circumstances.

In 1710, he became a pupil of Gregorio Lazzarini, a successful painter with an eclectic style. He was at least, equally strongly influenced by his study of the works of other contemporary artists such as Sebastiano Ricci and Giovanni Battista Piazzetta and those of his Venetian predecessors, especially Tintoretto and Veronese.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo - “Scipio Africanus Freeing Massiva” (1719–1721)A biography of his teacher, published in 1732, says that Tiepolo “departed from [Lazzarini’s] studied manner of painting, and, all spirit and fire, embraced a quick and resolute style“.

His earliest known works of 1715-16 are depictions of the apostles, painted in spandrel; as part of the decoration of the church of the Ospedoletto, in Venice.

At about the same time he became painter to Doge Giovanni II Cornaro and oversaw the hanging of pictures at his palace; as well as painting many works himself, of which only two portraits have been identified.

Above: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo – “Scipio Africanus Freeing Massiva” (1719–1721)

Tiepolo, painted his first fresco in 1716, on the ceiling of a church at Biadene, near Treviso. He probably left Lazzarini’s studio in 1717, the year he was received into the “Fraglia” or guild of painters.

In around 1719-20, he painted a scheme of frescoes for the wealthy and recently ennobled, publisher Giambattista Baglione; in the hall of his villa at Massanzago, near Padua. Tiepolo depicted the “Triumph of Aurora” on the ceiling, and the “Myth of Phaethon” on the walls, creating the kind of fluid spatial illusion; which was to become a recurring theme in his work.

In 1722, he was one of twelve artists, that included Ricci, Piazetta, and Pellegrini, commissioned to contribute a painting on canvas of one of the apostles; as part of a decorative scheme for the nave of San Stae in Venice.



In 1719, Tiepolo married noblewoman, Maria Cecilia Guardi; sister of two contemporary Venetian painters, Francesco and Giovanni Antonio Guardi. Tiepolo and his wife had nine children, with four daughters and three sons surviving to adulthood.

Two of his sons, Domenico and Lorenzo, painted with him as his assistants and later achieved some independent recognition;  particularly Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo.

His children painted figures with a design similar to that of their father, but with distinctive styles, including genre painting. His third son became a priest. Fabio Canal, Francesco Lorenzi, and Domenico Pasquini were among his pupils.

Left: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo “A Young Boy in the Costume of a Page” (late 1740’s)





The patrician Dolfin family provided Tiepolo with some major commissions.

Dionisio Dolfin, the Archbishop of Udine in Friuli employed him to decorate a chapel in the cathedral at Udine, and then to paint another cycle depicting episodes from the lives of Abraham and his descendants from the Book of Genesis at his archiepiscopal palace (the “Arcivescovado“, completed 1726–1728).

Despite their elevated subject matter, they are bright in colour and light-hearted in mood. Michael Levey describes the paintings at the palace as “a shimmering set of tableaux, full of wit and elegance“.

Tiepolo used a much cooler palette than previous Venetian painters, in order to create a convincing effect of daylight.  His first masterpieces in Venice were a cycle of ten enormous canvases, painted to decorate a large reception room of Ca’ Dolfin on the Grand Canal of Venice (ca. 1726–1729); depicting battles and triumphs from the history of ancient Rome.

These early masterpieces, innovative amongst Venetian frescoes for their luminosity, brought him many commissions.


Above: “The Banquet of Cleopatra” (1743-44)

He painted canvases for churches and ceilings, such as:

  • that of Verolanuova(1735–1740) Brescia, Lombardy
  • for the Scuola dei Carmini(1740–1747), in Cannaregio, Venice
  • a ceiling for the Palazzi Archinto and Casati-Dugnani in Milan (1731)
  • the Colleoni Chapel in Bergamo (1732–1733)
  • a ceiling for the Gesuati (Santa Maria del Rosario) in Venice of “ Dominic Instituting the Rosary” (1737–1739)
  • the Palazzo Clerici, Milan (1740)
  • decorations for Villa Cordellina Molin, a ceiling for the Chiesa degli Scalzi (1743–1744; (Villa Cordellina, at Montecchio Maggiore (1743–1744)
  • the ballroom of the Palazzo Labia in Venice; showing the “Story of Cleopatra” (1745–1750)



Tiepolo produced two sets of etchings:

The Capricci (c. 1740–1742). The ten capricci were first published by Anton Maria Zanetti, incorporated into the third edition of a compilation of woodcuts after Parmigiano. They were not published separately until 1785.

The Scherzi di fantasia (c. 1743–1757). The 23 Scherzi, were etched over more than ten years and privately circulated; only being commercially published after Tiepolo’s death; with numbers and titles added by his son, Giandomenico. Subjects include, mysterious Eastern figures and in some of the later prints; scenes of necromancy (the practice of magic or black magic involving communication with the dead).

Left: Capricci c. 1735 – c.1740. Etching.



By 1750, Tiepolo’s reputation was firmly established throughout Europe, with the help of his friend Francesco Algarotti; an art dealer, critic and collector.

That year, at the invitation of Prince Bishop Karl Philip von Greiffenklau, he travelled to Würzburg; where he arrived in November 1750. He stayed for three years, during which he executed ceiling paintings in the “New Residenz” palace, completed 1744.

He frescoed the Kaisersaal salon, in collaboration with his sons Giovanni Domenico and Lorenzo and was then invited to deliver a design for the grandiose entrance staircase (Treppenhaus); designed by Balthasar Neumann. It is a massive ceiling fresco at 7287 square feet (677 m2) and was completed in November 1753. His “Allegory of the Planets and Continents” c.1753) (Above), depicts Apollo embarking on his daily course; deities around him symbolise the planets; allegorical figures on the cornice, represent the four continents.

He included several portraits in the Europe section of this fresco: including a self-portrait; one of his son Giandomenico; one of the prince-bishop von Greiffenklau; one of the painter Antonio Bossi and one of the architect, Balthasar Neumann.


RETURN TO VENICE (1753–1770)

Tiepolo returned to Venice in 1753.

He was now in demand locally, as well as abroad; where he was elected President of the Academy of Padua. He went on to complete theatrical frescoes for churches; the “Triumph of Faith” for the Chiesa della Pietà; panel frescos for Ca’ Rezzonico (which now also houses his ceiling fresco from the Palazzo Barbarigo). He also made paintings for patrician villas in the Venetian countryside, such as “Villa Valmarana” in Vicenza and an elaborate panegyric (in praise of) ceiling, for the “Villa Pisani” in Stra; on the Brenta river, in the Veneto.

In some celebrated frescoes at the Palazzo Labia, he depicted two scenes from the life of Cleopatra: “Meeting of Anthony” and “Cleopatra and Banquet of Cleopatra”; as well as, in a central ceiling fresco, the “Triumph of Bellerophon over Time”. Here he collaborated with Girolamo Mengozzi Colonna. This connection with Colonna, who also designed sets for opera; highlights the increasing tendency towards composition, as a staged fiction in Tiepolo’s frescoes. The architecture of the Banquet fresco, also recalls that of Veronese’s “Wedding at Cana“.

In 1757, he painted an altar piece for the Thiene family, representing the “apotheosis of Saint Cajetan”. It is in the church of the hamlet of Rampazzo, in the northern province of Vincenza, Venetia.

Above: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo – “Punchinelli preparing a meal of gnocchi and parmesan cheese
black chalk, pen and brown ink, brown wash (Date unknown).



In 1761, Charles III commissioned Tiepolo to create a ceiling fresco, to decorate the throne room of the Royal Palace of Madrid. The panegyric theme, is the “Apotheosis of Spain” and has allegorical depictions recalling the dominance of Spain, in the Americas and across the globe.

He also painted two other ceilings in the palace and carried out many private commissions in Spain. However, he suffered from the jealousy and the bitter opposition of the rising champion of Neoclassicism, Anton Raphael Mengs. At the instigation of Mengs’ supporter, the King’s confessor Joaquim de Electa; had Tiepolo’s series of canvases for the church of S. Pascual at Aranjuez; replaced by works by his favourite.



Tiepolo died in Madrid on March 27, 1770.

After his death, the rise of a stern Neoclassicism and the post-revolutionary decline of absolutism, led to the slow decline of the Rococo style, associated with his name; but failed to dent his reputation.

In 1772, Tiepolo’s son was sufficiently respected, to be painter to Doge Giovanni II Cornaro; in charge of the decoration of Palazzo Mocenigo, in the San Polo district of Venice.





Please see my introductory post, on the Second Golden Age of Art: together with its most important artists: 

 Venetian Artists-18th Century

Foreign Artists working in Venice

Turner in Venice         Whistler in Venice

Monet in Venice

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo      Giovanni Battista Tiepolo       Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo      Giovanni Battista Tiepolo       Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

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