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Key facts
Full title Two Orientals seated under a Tree
Artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
Artist dates 1696 - 1770
Series Four Decorative Scenes
Date made about 1740-6
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 158.8 x 53 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1960
Inventory number NG6305
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Two Orientals seated under a Tree
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

Two men in turbans are seated under a tree that provides little shade. One has his back to us; the other shows off his glorious costume, a bushy moustache giving him extra character. He clutches a jar and looks across the scene, though his eyes are hidden by his headgear.

Depictions of people in ‘oriental’ dress (from the Eastern Mediterranean) were very popular during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, especially in prints. We know that Giovanni Battista Tiepolo studied and owned several ‘oriental’ prints by seventeenth-century artists such as Rembrandt and Castiglione.

This is one of four decorative paintings commissioned from Tiepolo to adorn a room in the Palazzo Cornaro on the Campo San Polo, Venice. The others – Seated Man, Woman with Jar, and Boy, Two Men in Oriental Costume and Rinaldo turning in Shame from the Magic Shield – are also in the National Gallery’s collection. All four scenes are inspired by the popular sixteenth-century epic poem Jerusalem Delivered by Torquato Tasso.

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Four Decorative Scenes

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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 prestigious commissions for monumental 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 Men in Oriental Costume and Two Orientals 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 and exotic atmosphere.