Gill Crabbe, FNG Research
Following the recent opening of a groundbreaking Tiepolo exhibition at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, one of the key contributors, Tiepolo expert Dr Irina Artemieva, Keeper of Venetian paintings at the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, discusses the research and international collaboration involved in the FNG project
Dr Artemieva, you joined The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg in 1982 and became Keeper of 15th to 18th-century Venetian paintings in 1985. How did you become interested in the works of the Tiepolos?
Works by the Tiepolos make up a very important part of the collection of Venetian art of the 18th century and therefore from the start I set about finding out as much as I could about them and about the works, with the intention of adding in new information to that gathered by my predecessors.
You are also the scientific director of The Hermitage-Italy Centre in Venice. What is the importance of The Hermitage-Italy Centre for your research and for your links to Italian colleagues?
I was appointed scientific director of The Hermitage-Italy Centre in Venice because over the course of my work – and it’s nearly 40 years that I have been working at the Hermitage – I have formed very friendly and fruitful relationships with many of my Italian colleagues. I know nearly all the key members of staff of the leading museums in Italy and lots of specialists in specific areas. As for my acquaintance with Tiepolo specialists, my own interest – and the reason why I have gone more deeply into the study of Tiepolo – has been connected with the preparation of a major international exhibition and conference that marked the 300th anniversary of the birth of Giambattista Tiepolo, which took place in Venice back in 1996. For that conference I prepared a large paper on the history of the ceilings by Tiepolo painted for St Petersburg.
The art of Tiepolo found its way into important Russian collections already in the 18th century and its popularity continued throughout the 19th century. How do you explain this and the importance of Tiepolo in Russia?
Giambattista Tiepolo is, of course, one of the leading artists of the 18th century. His art marks the apotheosis of Venetian painting: the triumph of light and colour, its ability to convey aspects of reality through even the most imaginary subject. Tiepolo’s imagination had no limits and he was able to master any format, any form, from the smallest to most grandiose, but it was in the latter that he most majestically gave embodiment to his art. Art that demanded above all great internal spaces. Interiors of this kind were only to be found in royal and princely residences and, of course, to commission a master of such a level demanded huge financial resources. So it’s not surprising that he worked in the area of monumental painting in Venice both for the old and the new aristocracy – particularly the new – creating grandiose cycles and fresco wall paintings at the Palazzo Labia in Venice, and at the Villa Cordellina, and Villa Valmarana in Vicenza, as well as abroad. There’s a particularly interesting article in the catalogue accompanying the Sinebrychoff Art Museum exhibition devoted to Tiepolo’s links with Swedish clients and the attempt to invite him to paint a grand ceiling for the royal palace in Stockholm, although unfortunately this commission never took place. For Russia too the grand style was close to the heart of the monarchs and during the reign of Elizabeth, from 1741–62, when there was a huge amount of palace building, there was particular interest in the art of Tiepolo. His painting was really best suited to the style and the architecture of Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli (1700–71) and attempts were made to commission works by Tiepolo for Elizabeth’s new winter palace. Three ceilings were also commissioned by the Chancellor of the Russian Empire, Count Mikhail Illarionovich Vorontsov (1714–67), for his palace on Sadovaya Ulitsa in St Petersburg.
As for later purchases, even in the 18th century, we see that only the richest Russian aristocrats could afford to adorn their mansions with works by Tiepolo, among them Prince Nikolai Borisovich Yusupov (1750–1831) and Chancellor Alexandr Andreyevich Bezborodko (1747–99). At the start of the 19th century a large monumental canvas, The Banquet of Cleopatra (1747), was acquired for the new imperial residence the Mikhail Castle. We see thereafter how even in the second half of the 19th century, thanks to the Russian patron Baron Alexandr Stieglitz (1814–84), half of the monumental cycle created by Tiepolo for the Ca’ Dolfin was also acquired. Later Russia became the home of one of the best collections of monumental paintings by Tiepolo. The significance of this collection cannot be exaggerated, even though not all of the works have survived to the present day.
Featured image: Lorenzo Tiepolo, after Giambattista Tiepolo, Triumph of Venus, Catalogo di varie Opere (…), 1774, etching.
The National Library of Finland, Helsinki
Photo: The National Library of Finland
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