Review of Giambattista and Domenico Tiepolo: Master Drawings from the Anthony J. Moravec Collection

Giambattista and Domenico Tiepolo: Master Drawings from the Anthony J. Moravec Collection
by Adelheid M. Gealt, with contributions by George Knox

University of Indiana Press, Bloomington, IN, 2016
128 pp., illus. 68 col. Trade, $50.00 US
ISBN: 978–0–253–02290–5

Reviewed by: 
Mike Mosher
April 2017

This is a likable book. It's a pleasure to look through the drawings in this handsome hardcover. Discussion of their provenance and characteristics is by the learned curator Adelheid M. Gealt, who had completed an earlier work with the late George Knox, whom she credits with input on this project.

Any visitor to Venice who twists her or his head upward will enchanted by the fine ceiling paintings in fresco or oils by Giambattista Tiepolo (1696–1770) in the Jesuit church of Santa Maria del Rosario, Palazzo Sandi, and Galleria Dell'Accademia. The deft foreshortening of figures glimpsed from underneath shows mastery of anatomy and (like Bernini's marble sculptures) holy saints and allegorical figures based on hearty Venetians rise weightlessly into air and space.

Collected here are brown ink and wash drawings, five by Giambattista Tiepolo and 16 drawings by his son, Domenico Tiepolo (1727–1804). Many of the father's work are based on the New Testament, and those by the son on encounters between centaurs and satyr families, Punchinellos, or the life of St. Anthony of Padua. The drawings were given by Anthony J. Moravec to the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University, and the book is published in association with the Indiana University Art Museum. The fine volume saves us a trip to Indiana, the big, generous reproductions of the drawings affording the reader almost the pleasure of examining the works in person . . . and it can be done a lot more casually in one's home.

The drawings are complex but no more so than the narrative being depicted demands. A single medium value wash often unifies an entire composition of multiple figures dashed off in pen. Pen and brush are swiftly wielded with proficiency, prowess, and panache. The drawings crackle with sprezzatura, the sense of effortlessness, grace, and nonchalance in execution.

I incessantly tell my students that the designer who can draw well, quickly visualize the ideas of others upon hearing, can always find a place in tech corporations and development teams, as I once was lucky to find in Silicon Valley. As digital tools enable our efforts, uniquely humanist skills (like well-honed artistry) become all the more distinguishing. It is in these works on paper from three hundred years ago that we appreciate the timelessness of subjectively excellent depiction, enlightened vision, and sophisticated intelligences animating skilled drawing hands.