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Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, The Building of the Trojan Horse

Key facts
Full title The Building of the Trojan Horse
Artist Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo
Artist dates 1727 - 1804
Series Two Sketches depicting the Trojan Horse
Date made about 1760
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 38.8 × 66.7 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1918
Inventory number NG3318
Location Room 39
Collection Main Collection
The Building of the Trojan Horse
Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo

The Building of the Trojan Horse illustrates an episode from one of the most famous stories in Greek mythology – that of the Trojan War and fall of Troy. Soldiers in armour prepare for battle while workmen build the giant wooden horse in which Greek soldiers will hide, allowing them to secretly enter the city of Troy. Most labour tirelessly with hammers and chisels but one sits on a plank and raises a brush to paint the rump. The horse’s glossy coat, powerful pose and flowing mane give the impression that it is alive and moving.

This is probably a sketch for Domenico’s monumental depiction of the same subject, painted in around 1773/4, now in the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. It has the characteristics of a preparatory design. It is a small-scale work with loosely applied paint, and Domenico was working out ideas as he went along, for example, making slight changes to the positions of some of the workers.

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Two Sketches depicting the Trojan Horse


The Building of the Trojan Horse and The Procession of the Trojan Horse are part of a series illustrating the fall of Troy, an ancient city on the coast of Turkey that was besieged by Greek armies for ten years. The Trojan War was one of the most important events in Greek mythology.

According to Virgil’s Aeneid (Book 2), the Greeks built a giant wooden horse in which they could hide their men, and left it outside the impregnable walls of Troy. The Trojans, believing it to be a gift, wheeled it inside the city. Under the cover of darkness, the Greek soldiers climbed out of the horse and took Troy.

Painted in around 1760, these scenes were probably intended as preparatory designs for larger oil paintings. Domenico’s monumental The Building of the Trojan Horse is in the Wadsworth Atheneum, in the United States, but the whereabouts of the other large canvasses is not known.