The eighteenth-century Venetian painter and draftsman Domenico Tiepolo is best known for his drawn narrative cycles of the commedia dell’arte character Punchinello and engaging scenes of everyday life in the Veneto. He reserved his greatest passion, however, for sacred subjects. This exhibition, organized by guest curator Adelheid Gealt, director of the Indiana University Art Museum, presented sixty key examples from Domenico's New Testament cycle, his most extensive and least-known cycle of more than three hundred large finished drawings illustrating the events of early Christianity through the foundation of the Church. Shortly after the artist's death in 1804, the drawings, which were executed roughly between 1786 and 1790, were divided into two groups. The first group stayed together in an album (now in the Musée du Louvre), while the sheets from the second group were widely dispersed. The works were not recorded in Domenico's lifetime, nor did the artist leave any clues as to their order, or even provide titles for them. So far, no patron for this vast undertaking has been discovered, nor has any motive other than the artist's personal interest and deep piety emerged. The Frick exhibition was the first to present these works to the public.
This exhibition coincided with the landmark publication by Dr. Gealt and George Knox, professor emeritus, University of British Columbia, of the catalogue raisonné of Domenico's New Testament cycle — a monumental feat of art historical and biblical scholarship that brings together for the first time all 313 known drawings. Over the course of a decade, Gealt and Knox tracked down far-flung sheets, traced the scenes to their textual and visual sources, and assigned each drawing a place in the series, which is the largest-known sacred cycle created by a single artist. Together, the exhibition and publication restore Domenico's lost masterpiece to its original context.
Domenico made use of a wide variety of compositional devices, gestures, and settings for his New Testament cycle, mining existing art — from early Christian to the art of his contemporaries — for inspiration. The cycle as a whole bears the strong imprint of the artist's time and locale through references to familiar Venetian monuments and everyday life, as well as motifs from works by Titian, Veronese, and his father, Giambattista Tiepolo (1696–1770), whose virtuosic frescoes adorned the ceilings of many of the great villas and churches of eighteenth-century Europe.
While a number of works included in the exhibition displayed Domenico's gifts as a storyteller and chronicler of his time, others revealed the depth of his piety and empathy. He approached his project as an interpreter and biblical scholar, drawing his own conclusions about the events from all the available, often conflicting, literary sources known to him, in order to infuse his cycle with a more complete and complex rendering of the Christian epic.
This exhibition was organized by guest curator Adelheid Gealt and coordinated for The Frick Collection by Susan Grace Galassi.