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Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

(1696 Venice – 1770 Madrid)

The Philosopher. Etching from the Scherzi suite. 23.2 x 17 cm. Circa 1756/57. De Vesme 32; Rizzi (1970) 22 I (of II); Rizzi (1971) 23 I (of II); Succi 80 I (of IV).

When the Scherzi were published is a matter of contention. For a long time it was assumed that fourteen etchings from the cycle produced by Giambattista were published after his death by his son Giandomenico (1775). The second edition listed twenty-three Scherzi with a different numbering plus two etchings on religious themes. These latter had been added in order to incorporate the whole of Giambattista’s printed oeuvre in a single volume. More recent research carried out by Dario Succi has refuted this assumption. It emerges from contemporary sources that twenty prints from the series were available from the artist himself in 1748/49 at the latest. There is evidence that a further four prints from the cycle were delivered to the collector and print dealer, Pierre-Jean Mariette, in Paris in 1758. Hence it is now generally assumed that Giambattista created the Scherzi between circa 1743 and 1757 (cf. Dario Succi, Giambattista Tiepolo. Il segno e l’enigma, Venice 1986, p. 58 f.).

In iconographical terms the Scherzi are distinguished by their unbridled creative verve and the immensity of their figurative imagination. The imagery perfectly reflects the sophistication of eighteenth-century Venice while portraying its apotheosis, so to speak. This explains why Giambattista’s inventions have lost none of their fascination for present-day viewers. The Scherzi are brilliant and ingenious variations on bucolic and exotic themes in which reminiscences of the world of the commedia dell’arte are readily apparent. These scenes should not be seen as allegories, nor do they harbour any deeper meaning. They were created for the sole purpose of pleasing the eye and affording an exquisite visual delight.

The Philosopher is one of the last etchings that Giambattista produced around 1756/57. It belongs to a group of four delivered to Mariette in 1758 and is available here in the extremely rare first state. Only a few impressions of this state have survived, the characteristic feature of which are the heads of two youths visible between the philosopher’s torso and his book. The etching reveals traces of foul biting; in the second state Giambattista reworked the plate and removed the two heads. These technical inadequacies notwithstanding, the enigmatic depiction nonetheless reveals all the magic of his art. The pose of the venerable old man is reminiscent of the traditional theme of melancholy. Tiepolo depicts him with the attributes of his knowledge – compasses, book and globe. A snake winds itself around a torch symbolising the light of wisdom. The agitated drawing style comprising innumerable fine little strokes and dense hatchings produces a flickering, restless graphic pattern, thus creating highly evocative, scintillating light effects. Last but not least, the charm of the infinito also makes this impression one of his late masterpieces. 

A superb, tonal and highly expressive early impression with numerous wiping marks, before the reworking of the plate and before the number, with margins. Minor foxing, slight ageing, otherwise in excellent, unrestored condition.

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