Introduction

detail of Tiepolo's Perseus and Andromeda, ca. 1730-31 (destroyed 1943)

During World War II, about sixty-five percent of Milan’s historic monuments were damaged or destroyed, among them, Palazzo Archinto, located in the center of the city. On the night of August 13, 1943, Allied bombing destroyed the palazzo’s interior, which was decorated with an important cycle of frescoes by the Venetian painter Giambattista Tiepolo (1696–1770). These were among the most noteworthy works of art created in Milan when the city was under Austrian rule, between 1713 and the Unification of Italy in 1861.

Palazzo Archinto belonged to one of Milan’s most prominent families, one documented in the city since at least the twelfth century. In the eighteenth century, the Archinto were described as one of those Milanese families who “have always had as an innate quality that of being the owners of highly admired treasures.” In addition to the frescoes, their palazzo contained extensive collections of artworks and a celebrated library. A well-known figure in Milan’s intellectual circles, Carlo Archinto (1670–1732) had studied philosophy and mathematics and was a keen appreciator of art. Between 1730 and 1731, he commissioned Tiepolo — at that point, an emerging young artist — to decorate five rooms in his palazzo. This was Tiepolo’s first substantial commission outside the Veneto, and it marked the beginning of his international career.

In 1916, the middle of World War I, when Henry Clay Frick acquired his only work by Tiepolo — the painted sketch, or modello, depicting Perseus and Andromeda — the Archinto fresco for which it was created still existed, only to be destroyed less than thirty years later. Through surviving original drawings and modelli, as well as pre-war black-and-white photographs, this exhibition — a stark reminder of the destruction of art so often caused by war — brings back to life these extraordinary lost frescoes.

Giambattista Tiepolo (1696–1770), detail of Perseus and Andromeda, ca. 1730-31 (destroyed 1943), from Attilio Centelli and Gerardo Molfese, Gli affreschi di G.B. Tiepolo raccolti da Gerardo Molfese con uno studio di Attilio Centelli (Turin, 1897), pl. 4, Azienda di Servizi alla Persona Golgi-Redaelli, Milan (su autorizzazione dell'Azienda di Servizi alla Persona Golgi-Redaelli di Milano).