Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Two Men seated under a Tree
Four Decorative Scenes
These four narrow canvases were painted during the 1740s by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo to decorate a room on the second floor of the Palazzo Cornaro on the Campo San Polo, Venice. Tiepolo was enjoying growing fame across Italy at this time; receiving important commissions for large ceiling paintings and wall decorations.
The paintings formed part of a complex decorative scheme, with which a ceiling painting (now in Canberra) and four allegorical figures (now divided between New York and Amsterdam), have been associated. Tiepolo’s four paintings in the National Gallery – Rinaldo turning in Shame from the Magic Shield, Seated Man, Woman with Jar and Boy, Two Standing Figures and Two Men seated under a Tree – are inspired by Torquato Tasso’s popular sixteenth-century poem Jerusalem Delivered. Set during the First Crusade, a Christian military campaign to recapture Jerusalem from Islamic rule, the poem tells of the ill-fated love between the Saracen sorceress Armida and Rinaldo, a Christian knight. Tiepolo’s pale pastel tones and lively brushwork in these scenes create a dazzling atmosphere that evokes the poem’s setting.
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo is best known for his large ceiling paintings and wall decorations for palaces and monasteries across Europe, from his native Venice to Germany and Spain. Painted at a time when Tiepolo’s fame was growing across Italy, these four narrow canvases are from a room, the Sala degli Specchi (Room of Mirrors), on the second floor of the Palazzo Cornaro (or Corner) on the Campo San Polo, Venice.
The interior of the sixteenth-century Palazzo Cornaro was extensively redecorated between 1736 and 1747 in preparation for a marriage. We know this from payments for work recorded in the 1740s. The room had an allegorical ceiling painting at its centre (now in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra) and the walls were decorated with woodwork and mirrors. Four canvases with female allegorical figures, painted in monochrome to look like bas-relief sculpture, hung above the doors (these are now thought to be the paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).
The four long rectangular paintings (‘Quattro pezzi di quadro bislunghi’) from the room are likely the four narrow, upright paintings now in the National Gallery Rinaldo turning in Shame from the Magic Shield, Seated Man, Woman with Jar and Boy, Two Standing Figures and Two Men seated under a Tree. An eighteenth-century inventory indicated that the paintings were inspired by Torquato Tasso’s popular sixteenth-century poem Jerusalem Delivered. Set during the First Crusade (1096–9), a Christian military campaign to recapture Jerusalem from Islamic rule, the poem tells of the ill-fated love between the Saracen sorceress Armida and Rinaldo, a Christian knight.
The elaborate costumes and headgear worn by the figures reflect eighteenth-century interest in non-European cultures. The pale pastel tones and Tiepolo’s lively brushwork in these paintings would have helped create a dazzling atmosphere. The stories told in Tasso’s poem were especially popular in eighteenth-century Europe, where they often became the subject of operas, plays and concerts as well as art.