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Welcome to the Exhibition: Tiepolo in Milan: The Lost Frescoes of Palazzo Archinto.
I am Xavier Salomon, the Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator of the Frick Collection, and together with Andrea Tomezzoli from the University of Padua, and Denis Ton from the Museums of Belluno, I am one of the co-curators of this exhibition.
We start here in the entrance of the exhibition looking into the Archinto Palace through this black and white large photograph, which shows the courtyard of the palace, as it was, before the bombings of the Second World War. In fact, as it is today, after the reconstructions in the 1950s. The exhibition is focused on a series of frescoes that were created for this palace. By walking, in a way, into the palace through the courtyard, you get a sense of this great space in the center of Milan.
On the right is the coat of arms of the Archinto family, and the Archintos are key in this story, obviously, because they are the patrons of the frescoes that the exhibition focuses on. They are also the owners of the palace and one of the oldest aristocratic families in Milan. The Archinto trace their origins back, historically, to the twelfth century, but the legend is that they go back to Longobard times to the High Middle Ages. The mythical founder of the family was a man called Archinto, a Longobard. In the Middle Ages and later, especially in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, they were one of the most prominent families under Spanish rule in Milan, and into the eighteenth century, they remained one of the great Milanese families.
They acquired this palace in the 1670s through marriage. Filippo Archinto married Camilla Stampa, whose mother, Anna Visconti Stampa had, herself, acquired the palace before that. When Anna Visconti Stampa, as a widow, entered a convent in the 1670s, her daughter and husband, Filippo Archinto, inherited the palace. The Archintos were to live in the palace for the next hundred and fifty years, until 1825, when Giuseppe Archinto had to sell the palace to a businessman. Subsequently, in the 1850s, the palace was sold again to a charitable institution, the Luoghi Pii Elemosinieri. The descendant of that institution, the Azienda di Servizi alla Persona Golgi-Redaelli, is currently the owner, still, of the palace, and this exhibition is in collaboration with them. They still have an archive in the palace with many of the sources about the history you will explore in this exhibition.
The palace however was bombed on the night between the 13th and 14th of August 1943, and the destruction of the palace meant that the interiors were absolutely devastated and none of the frescoes that we'll be talking about today, survive any longer. You have to think that, over a period of three days between the 13th and 16th of August 1943, Milan underwent some of the heaviest bombings in Italy of any civic center. Sixty-five percent of its monuments were either altogether destroyed or severely damaged, and Palazzo Archinto was one of them. Many of the famous buildings in Milan, like the cathedral, The Last Supper, and many of its museums, were severely damaged at the time.
The exhibition begins in the room on the left, and in this room, we will have some of the context around the Tiepolo frescoes. If you turn immediately to the left, you will see a selection of four photographs, one of which you've just seen in the entrance, that photograph of the courtyard. These are a selection of four photographs from the archive at Palazzo Archinto today, showing the palace before the bombings of 1943. You see the façade on Via Olmetto — this is in the southern part of Milan. Via Olmetto was called after an elm tree, olmo in Italian, and it was an old road which was based on part of the ancient Roman part of the town in this area of Milan.
The courtyards were a typical feature in Milanese aristocratic palaces at the time. Most palaces had a first and, ideally, a second courtyard which then led into a garden. And the last photograph you see, shows a balcony which connects the second courtyard to the garden in the back.
If you turn to your left again, what you see is a selection of another five photographs, which instead show the destruction, the devastation of the palace after 1943. Again, you see that same façade and three photographs of the interiors, where you see the bombs have really created a sort of empty space within the palace. While the architectural structure of the exterior — the façade, the courtyards — remained standing and were subsequently restored in the 1950s, the interior of the palace was altogether devastated and pretty much nothing was left inside. When it was reconstructed in the 1950s, the interiors were all rebuilt in a modern fashion.
The palace was decorated at different points, probably already in the seventeenth century and then in the early eighteenth century, Filippo Archinto, who had acquired the palace, had a series of frescoes by an artist called Andrea Lanzani, but none of this survives. We don't know what these frescoes looked like. The hero of the story is Filippo's son, who's called Carlo Archinto, who lived all of his life in the palace, and in the 1730s, decided to commission eight frescoed ceilings from two different painters.
Five of these ceilings were done by Giambattista Tiepolo, the Venetian artist, and three were done by a Bolognese artist called Vittorio Maria Bigari. If you move to the left on this wall, you see a selection of photographs of some of these frescoes by Bigari. He decorated three ceilings in the palace. The first one, on your extreme left, is Bacchus and Ariadne. Then there was a smaller ceiling showing Truth Unveiled by Time, and this in fact is the only one of these frescoes that survived the bombings, and the fresco detached is still at Palazzo Archinto and you can see on the label, an image in color, of what that fresco looks like today. And then a very large room was decorated with the Apotheosis of Romulus. Here you see a selection of photographs of these frescoes. We'll see some more in the next room, but just to give you an introduction about these photos, the larger ones with inscriptions around them — and you see three of them on this wall — were part of a large book published in 1897 by Attilio Centelli and Gerardo Molfese in Turin which showed a series of fifty plates of frescoes by, or attributed to, Tiepolo in Milan and these focus on a series of different palaces.
This volume is very rare, and only one of three volumes of it is at Palazzo Archinto, the other two known volumes are in Venice and Rome. This volume is unbound, so we were able to borrow all ten plates relating to Palazzo Archinto in the exhibition and show them framed.
You will notice that, in these three cases, that the text on the photograph says, "GB Tiepolo". So these were frescoes that, even though we now know are by Bigari, were attributed at the time to Giambattista Tiepolo. Many other frescoes in this book, which were also given to Tiepolo, we now know are by different artists.
In fact, artists working on these sort of ceilings divided their work between a figurative painter, in this case Bigari or Tiepolo, and so that's the person who would have frescoed all the figures in it, and then an architectural painter, which in Italian is known as a quadraturista, the architecture is known as quadratura, who would have been someone specializing in just painting the other parts in the frescoes. We know that, in this case, there was another Bolognese artist called Stefano Orlandi. Stefano Orlandi worked with both Bigari and with Tiepolo.
If you turn to the other side in the room, the other two walls and the vitrines in the middle of the room, focus on one very important aspect of this story. Carlo Archinto, the patron of the frescoes, was obviously, very well established within the aristocratic circles of Milan. He had many civic roles within the city of Milan. But he also lived at a key moment in the history of Milan, when the city passed from Spanish rule to Austrian rule.
In the late seventeenth century, with the death of the last Habsburg king of Spain, Charles II, the war started, effectively, between France and Austria, the so-called War of the Spanish Succession. This really evolved around the decision as to who was going to take the throne in Madrid in Spain, and therefore all Spanish territories, including Milan, were going to fall under that crown.
The war lasted several decades, and with the Peace of Utrecht in 1713, it was decided that Spain was to have a Bourbon king, Philip V, and Milan, instead, was going to go to the enemy. It was going to become an Austrian city. So, Milan remained Austrian until 1861, until the unification of Italy, except for a very brief interlude during the Napoleonic Wars in the late eighteenth, early nineteenth century.
Carlo Archinto really witnessed the passage from a Spanish Milan to an Austrian Milan, and he lived for the first forty years of his life, as a Spanish citizen, and for the last twenty as an Austrian citizen. He was very well known for his intellectual pursuits, and so, he wasn't just a politician and a man involved in the running of the city, but he was also someone who was very interested in mathematics, in history, in natural history, in philosophy, in a number of different intellectual pursuits. He was well known for owning one of the most important private libraries in Milan at the time. Palazzo Archinto had a space with five rooms dedicated to the library.
In the 1720s, Carlo Archinto decides to sponsor a publishing house, which also functioned as some sort of academy, known as the Società Palatina, and this was done in collaboration with a number of intellectuals at the time. The Società Palatina started publishing volumes of historic sources for Italy, which were very difficult to find at the time, mainly Latin, medieval sources which were made available through the publication of these volumes. Especially a set of twenty-five volumes, which were published between the 1720s and the 1730s, known as the Rerum Italicarum Scriptores. And if you go towards the two vitrines that are attached next to each other, you see two books, one on the left dedicated to the Republic of Venice, and the one on the right with the title of the Annals of Milan, in Latin. These are two of the volumes of the Rerum Italicarum Scriptores. Ludovico Antonio Muratori, who was the man who compiled these texts, decided very early on that to make these books more marketable, he says in a letter, "to make them more accessible to the ignorant,” you need to have figures. And so, the Società Palatina commissions Tiepolo, a young artist from Venice, to start doing drawings that were then going to be engraved and included in these books. Everything you see in these books, the little scenes, the illustrated letterheads, the frontispieces, all of these were designed by Tiepolo and then engraved for the books.
You see around the walls, a selection of eight drawings that come from the Metropolitan Museum of Art here in New York, that are original drawings by Tiepolo for these books. If you look at the book on the right, the Annals of Milan, you can see that the scene it shows is the crowning of an emperor. It's actually the crowning of Emperor Henry VII in Milan in 1311. If you look up above it, you can see the drawing for it from the Met, on the wall behind it. We decided on a couple of cases in this room, to make direct comparisons between drawings and the actual engraving in the book.
Now the book on the left, instead by itself, has another very grand frontispiece. This is a different book, also published by the Società Palatina around 1730, and this is by a man called Francesco Mediobarbo Birago, and it's a book about ancient coins, the Imperatorum Romanorum Numismata. The frontispiece has this very beautiful, one of the grandest, printed allegories done by Tiepolo for a book, which shows a female figure holding a book. That female figure represents Italy, and she's holding the actual book, the book by Mediobarbo Birago. She's presenting it to the emperor of Austria, Charles VI, who appears in a sculptural form, in a bust form. They are accompanied by Fame, above sounding a trumpet, and Time, below, asleep. The idea here, of course, is that this book was dedicated to the emperor, and Tiepolo signs this engraving at the bottom left, in a way to promote his art with the emperor.
1730 is a key date because, while Tiepolo is probably working on this frontispiece, he is also beginning to fresco the ceilings at Palazzo Archinto, and to talk about those, we'll go to the other room across the exhibition.
In the center of this room, there are two more books. These books celebrate a very important event in the history of the Archinto family in 1731: the wedding between Carlo Archinto's son, the first son Filippo, who was called after his grandfather, and Giulia Borromeo, who was the daughter of another very important aristocrat in the city at the time, and the Borromeos were among, like the Archintos, the most important noble families of Milan.
To celebrate this wedding, various books were produced. Books of poems and epithalamia, which are ancient forms of poems related to weddings. Here you see, the openings of two of those books, including one on the left with the coat of arms of the Archinto and the Borromeo families attached to each other.
It has been said that the wedding prompted the redecoration of the palace in the 1730s, but in fact, it seems that Carlo was trying to leave, as the generations were changing, as his son was taking over, he was trying to leave a visual testament of his beliefs and his interests for his future generations. So while some of the ceilings are indeed connected to the wedding, others seem to have a more general message. Carlo died in 1732, which was only a year after the frescoes were completed in 1731.
So we have to imagine that Tiepolo comes to Milan, between 1730 and 1731, over a period of two years, he frescoes these five ceilings, and this is the first prominent commission to Tiepolo for frescoes outside of the Venetian Republic, outside of Venice and the Veneto. This room focuses on the five ceilings, and reconstructs as much as we can, what we know about these five destroyed ceilings.
We start on the left with the largest ceiling and, if you go towards the painting, you stand in front of it and you see that the painting is framed by two drawings: a pen and ink drawing on the left and a chalk drawing on the right standing in the middle of the room. These are the two only known surviving drawings for the fresco cycle at Palazzo Archinto. Tiepolo must have produced hundreds of drawings for these frescoes, but only two seem to have survived. The one on the left, in Trieste, which shows three allegorical figures, Sculpture with a mallet, Painting with a palette and brush, and a figure with a large book, probably History or Literature. On the right, instead, is a beautiful head from the museum in Helsinki in Finland, which shows a detail head which was then used for the allegory of painting at the center of this great allegorical ceiling.
The ceiling itself shows a combination of the allegories of the arts and sciences. Up above in the clouds, covered by this beautiful green curtain held by flying putti, you have two gods, you have Apollo on the right and Minerva on the left, the gods of wisdom and science. They overlook a group of allegorical figures, together with Time on the upper left. Some of these figures are easily identifiable. That's Painting standing with her brush and palette. Music on the right with musical instruments. There is Sculpture on the left holding a large marble bust. Some are more obscure, but easily identifiable. For example, in the middle register on the left, there is a figure holding a dagger, which is in fact a double-edged dagger, and has two feathers in her helmet. That is Dialectic. Next to her, winged, holding a compass with a globe, is Astronomy, and below her, with a pendulum, is Architecture. Others are more difficult to identify. There are figures with books that may represent poetry or history or literature, and scrolls, and so not every figure is identifiable.
The most mysterious one, is probably also the most beautiful, which is this half-naked boy flying with multi-colored wings. He holds in his hand either a lens or a mirror, and we don't know if this is an allegory of Science, or of Vision, of Color; something relating to that. It's a very difficult figure to identify exactly. But clearly the ceiling was meant to evoke and celebrate all the interests of the Archinto family.
When you look at the sketch, you realize the corners are painted in ochre, and that is because, when Tiepolo is painting this, which presumably is a model that he will present to his patron, to Carlo Archinto to approve the fresco, he has no idea what Orlandi, the quadraturista is going to fresco around it. So he just leaves it somewhat vague, and then the other painter will work on his part. If you move directly to the right, you see a set of three large photographs of the same fresco, and you can see the missing gaps are covered by architectural features. We know that there were painted statues of the four continents and niches and two kings looking out of balconies. We don't know who these figures are exactly.
If you look at the horizontal photo above, you see that there is one of these kings holding a scroll and leaning out of the balcony. The scroll actually has the date with the finishing of the fresco, 1731. If you look now to the left, all the way at the end, you can see that under the text panel there is a photograph showing a fragmentary part of that same figure, of that fresco. That was the only part of that fresco that was rescued after the bombing and it's now in storage at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan. Unfortunately, it's a very large fragment of a fresco and it was too delicate and too large to include in the exhibition. But you can see it in the photograph and most of it is quadratura, is architecture by Orlandi, but there is also remains of that kingly figure by Tiepolo.
Now the next fresco, on the wall directly opposite the illustration of the fragment, has two black and white photographs of two of the other frescoes. Unfortunately, while with Triumph of the Arts and Sciences we had a modello, a painted modello, we had drawings and we have photographs, in this case, we only have single photographs surviving. One was a smaller ceiling, much smaller ceiling, but with an allegorical figure showing Nobility, a woman seated on a cloud with a lance and holding a little statue of Minerva. This was probably done for a smaller room, a passage, a cabinet, a sort of small gabinetto in the palace.
And then on the right, a larger ceiling, with a series of allegorical figures. Here you see, up in the clouds, Juno, the queen of the gods, the wife of Jupiter, seated on a cloud with a crown, and in front of her is a peacock. Below her, there are two other women, one, again, seated, with doves, that is the goddess of love, Venus, and another one seated on a wheel, and that is probably Fortune. These are three female figures, three female goddesses. On the bottom right, there is a wind, with wings, and that's probably Zephyr, the spring wind. He holds two scrolls with the Archinto and Borromeo coat of arms. This is clearly a ceiling relating to the wedding, and this may have been in Giulia Borromeo Archinto's apartments. It may have been for the wife of Filippo Archinto that these were painted and they would have decorated, probably an antechamber to her apartments. Any of the three goddesses fits very well with Giulia Archinto's space within the palace.
Now the last two ceilings, instead, showed two mythological events which are described in Ovid's Metamorphoses. The first one is Perseus and Andromeda. This is the modello that is at the Frick Collection and this is the reason why we decided to mount this exhibition. This is the first time that all of the modelli and drawings for Palazzo Archinto are reunited together in a single space, as far as we know, since they left Tiepolo's workshop.
This shows the moment where the mythical hero Perseus, seated on a winged horse, Pegasus, rescues Andromeda who had been changed to a rock for a monster to devour her. Perseus agrees with Andromeda's parents that if he manages to rescue her, he will be able to have her hand in marriage. So here he is, having rescued Andromeda. You still see some of the chains attached to the rock, and she still has shackles attached to her foot and hand. He has rescued her and is bringing her up to heaven, while her mother, Cassiopeia, is interceding in heaven to the king of the gods, Jupiter.
If you look closely, you can notice two things about the sketch. One is that there are little stars around some of the figures, and that is because all of these key figures, Cassiopeia, Perseus, Andromeda, Pegasus, all became, eventually in Greek mythology, constellations. If you imagine that this would have been over a ceiling in a room, it is of the sky above that, the real sky, has those constellations in the sky. So, there is a clear link between astronomy and these painted ceilings.
The other thing is, if you remember those ochre areas around the modello, this doesn't seem to have them, but if you look at it closely enough, you can notice, in the middle on the right and left, little pieces of ochre painting coming into the painting. If you look at this unframed, you realize that this had been cut down, and originally, had a large ochre area around it.
Soon before the exhibition opened, a copy of this modello came to light and it actually has the ochre areas around it, so it was a copy that was made before this was cut down. It's a very interesting witness to what this modello would have looked like. Very much like the other two we've just seen.
If you move immediately to the right, you see then the fresco in the photograph, and you realize that, in this case, it wasn't surrounded by architectural paintings, by quadratura, but it was surrounded by stucco work and other painted scenes. This stucco work was probably made by a Milanese workshop of the Aliprandi family. Three of the ceilings, the one with Juno, Fortune, and Venus, this one with Perseus and Andromeda, and the next one that we will see, all had stucco work instead of painted ceilings.
The last ceiling is, instead, showing another episode from Ovid's Metamorphoses, and that is Phaeton asking Apollo for the chariot of the Sun. Phaeton is one of the illegitimate sons of Apollo, and when he meets his father, he asks, as a gift, to drive the chariot of the sun for one day. You see the four seasons on a cloud, and these are the four figures on the right. There is Spring seated with flowers, and Summer with a torch in her hand and her back to us, and next to it, Bacchus for Autumn, and a bearded man for Winter. In the center, is Apollo standing in front of the sun, and his son, who's pointing to the zodiac, while asking for the chariot of the sun. Time is flying above them and, at the bottom, the Hours, with butterfly wings, tethering the horses to the chariot of the sun.
Of course this is going to be a tragic event, because while flying the chariot, Phaeton will become scared, and get too close to the earth and start scorching the earth, and then moving away from it, getting too far from it, and Jupiter has to hit him with a lightening to stop this from happening, and damaging the earth. So, Phaeton falls into a river and dies. Of course, the scene, in a way, could be seen as something that Carlo Archinto could have envisioned to warn his son Filippo and his descendants, from wishing for things that should not be asked for. It's a sort of moral teaching for the subsequent members of the Archinto family.
Again, next to it is a photograph showing the final fresco, very much the same and, again, surrounded by stucco work. The exhibition finishes with three problematic works: a large drawing and two other paintings. As you'll immediately notice, show the same exact scene: Apollo asking Phaeton for the chariot of the sun. These have been, in the past, connected to Palazzo Archinto by scholars, but together, with my co-curators, we believe that these were totally unrelated. So, when you look at them, you realize that, even though, yes, it is the same scene that is represented, first of all, these are shown as upright paintings. These are not sketches for a ceiling at all. They are meant to be seen flat against a wall, as we see them. The drawing, which is probably by someone in the workshop of Tiepolo, could be a copy, maybe, of a lost Tiepolo drawing, is directly related to the small painting from Vienna on the right.
This is a painting that is very uneven in its finish. If you look at the top section, for example, you realize that Apollo and Phaeton are very finished in terms of the paint layers, while the figure of Time is sort of broadly sketched in. So, the question is, is this a sketch, a preparatory work for something else that doesn't exist for a larger painting, or is this just a small, unfinished painting? We don't know.
The last painting, the largest in the room, is in many ways the most mysterious one. This has been described as a sketch, on a number of occasions, because of the way in which it's painted. But this is probably a later reiteration of the subject, and it may simply be that this is an unfinished painting. The way that Tiepolo leaves it suggests that this is not a sketch, not a preparatory work, but this may just be an abandoned painting that, for some reason, he never finished. Here again, you see Phaeton, leaving his father, kissing his hand as he heads down to drive the chariot and start his fateful trip.
If you look around this room, you realize that this, as I said before, is the first time that all these works are brought together. The selection of photographs from Milan from the archives of Palazzo Archinto, is part of a larger selection of photographs that survives. We decided to illustrate all of them in an appendix in the catalogue. You will have all seventy-seven known photographs of the frescoes in the catalogue. This is the first time that the three sketches, the Triumph of the Arts and Sciences from Lisbon, Portugal, the Frick Collection's Perseus and Andromeda, and the Phaeton and Apollo from the Los Angeles County Museum are seen together in one space.
This is meant to evoke these frescoes. To bring them back to life. To make people know about this incredible story of these frescoes that were commissioned in the 1730s in Milan, but it's also a meditation on the destruction of great works of art. Of course, we live in a time where works of art are still destroyed in war or by natural incidents, and it is worth posing about and thinking about the importance of preserving these great works of art for future generations.
I hope you enjoyed the exhibition, and we encourage you all to look at these photographs and these sketches and drawings in detail and spend some time with them, understanding what an extraordinary artist Tiepolo is. Not only in these grand frescoes, which unfortunately we can't see anymore, but also in smaller paintings and beautiful small drawings.