The Apotheosis of the Spanish Monarchy

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Italian, Venice 1696–1770 Madrid)

Oil on canvas
Oval painted surface, 33 1/8 x 27 1/8 in. (84.1 x 68.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1980
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    This oil sketch for the ceiling of the saleta adjacent to the throne room of the Palacio Real, Madrid, differs from an alternative version (37.165.3) in the prominence given to Jupiter and his eagle and to Apollo, god of the sun and patron of the arts. Elements of both versions were used in the final fresco.

  • Catalogue Entry

    Tiepolo's arrival in Madrid in June 1762 to fresco the throne room of the royal palace was preceded by the departure of the brilliant Neapolitan artist Corrado Giaquinto, who had been employed in that city by Charles III's father, and by the arrival of Anton Raphael Mengs, who, like Tiepolo, had been invited to the court in 1761. Both Giaquinto and Mengs worked on the extensive decorations of the royal palace together with a number of Spanish painters, including Francisco Bayeu. Giaquinto frescoed the ceiling over the main staircase—a commission that would have brought out Tiepolo's best—and Mengs carried out work in other rooms. Tiepolo had anticipated finishing the fresco in the throne room in two years and then returning to Venice; once in Madrid, however, he must have seen that the palace offered the possibility of far more extensive employment, and on August 7, 1764 he wrote a Venetian correspondent that he was engaged on "molti soffitti" (many ceilings). Whether he was referring to commissions in hand or, instead, was actively soliciting work through the production of modelli must remain a matter of speculation. In any event, he painted ceilings for two additional rooms, but a total of six oil sketches for four projects—including a particularly enchanting one for the ceiling of the queen's bedroom (MMA 1997.117.7)—survive. This work and another in the Museum's collection (37.165.3) are alternative modelli for the saleta, or small room, adjacent to the throne room. The program of the saleta was described in detail by Francisco José Fabre in a guide made for King Ferdinand VII in 1829.

    Not surprisingly, the modelli have many allegorical elements in common (see Images). Each shows, in the heavens, beneath a flapping canopy and accompanied by Minerva, Jupiter and his eagle with, to the side, a trumpeting figure of Fame. Below, in the center, crowned by a flying figure of Mercury, are the Spanish Monarchy and her lion with, in this picture, Neptune and Prudence (holding a snake), and, in the other, an old woman and a tower symbolizing Old Castile, the most eminent of Spain's provinces. Immediately under them are Mars and Venus, accompanied in this modello by the personification of Castile and in the other by Saturn-Time. In the lower left are Hercules (with a column symbolizing the Strait of Gibraltar, which separates Spain from Africa and the Atlantic Ocean from the Mediterranean) and figures representing the continents: Africa (wearing the elephant headdress prescribed by Cesare Ripa in his Iconologia), America (wearing feathers), and Europe (the female figure with a miniature temple), who is barely discernible in this sketch and highly prominent in the other. Asia may be personified by a fourth figure in the other picture, but she is excluded from this one.

    There are a host of differences between the secondary allegorical figures included in each work. For example, this modello presents Fortitude (with her column) and an American puma leaping out over the clouds. In the alternative sketch Merit and Justice appear next to the tower of Castile, with Bacchus and Victory in the clouds behind the Spanish Monarchy. In this one, Jupiter is surrounded by a golden aureole, while in the other he is seen against a blue sky. The most important iconographic shift, however, is the reduction of the role of Neptune, shown in the other picture above the continents offering the riches of the sea to the Spanish Monarchy but overshadowed here by the prominence accorded Apollo, who advances proffering a scepter. The conceit behind the sculptural decoration of the facade of the royal palace was the enlightened, that is, Apolline, rule of Spain—the Regia Solis—and Apollo plays a prominent part in the saleta ceiling fresco. If the modelli were done sequentially, it is the Apollo-based picture that must be the later proposal, since it is conceived around the one, crucial figure that the other sketch lacks.

    What is remarkable is not that two, alternative modelli, each with its own emphasis and compositional dynamics, should have been produced, but that the final ceiling should incorporate elements of both and, at the same time, introduce completely new features. Nothing could better demonstrate Tiepolo's inexhaustible ability to respond to the sometimes niggling demands of his patrons and the way his modelli were but a stage in his creative process, rather than fixed patterns he enlarged onto plaster surfaces. Fortunately, the relative scale of figures in the saleta fresco was only half that in the modello, allowing Tiepolo plenty of room to maneuver. Not only was Apollo given pride of place, but there was also space for the chariot from which he leaps. The prominent roles accorded Neptune and Castile in the presumably earlier modello were retained, and Europe was given broader treatment. Mercury is shown in a pose that reverses that in the earlier modello, while Jupiter and his eagle combine features from each sketch: the god is the benign figure of the other modello, and his eagle is the vigorously flying creature of this one. The poses of Fame and of a host of other figures are thought out anew. The mind at work is at once pragmatic, thrifty, and unfettered, and the result is Tiepolo's most brilliant scheme of decoration in the royal palace—one in which he deployed to the full his incomparable gifts as a narrative eulogizer: Jupiter, from his seat in Olympus, raises his hand to welcome into the empyrean the Spanish Monarchy, crowned by the gods' messenger, Mercury, guided by Apollo, and blessed by the wealth of Neptune.

    [2010; adapted from Christiansen 1996]

  • Provenance

    Baron Ferdinand von Stumm-Holzhausen, Madrid [where he served as German Ambassador, 1887–92], Florence, and Schloß Holzhausen, Hessen, Germany (?by 1892–d. 1925); [Van Diemen, Berlin]; Jakob Goldschmidt, Berlin and Bern (until 1937; one of three works sold with 1997.117.7 for a total of £8,000 to Internationale Antiquiteitenhandel, Amsterdam); [Internationale Antiquiteitenhandel, Amsterdam, 1937; one of three works sold with 1997.117.7 for a total of £12,000 to Becker]; Baroness Renée de Becker, Brussels and New York (1937–after 1955; sold to Rosenberg & Stiebel); [Rosenberg & Stiebel, New York, after 1955–59; sold to Speelman]; [Edward Speelman, London, 1959–60; sold to Wrightsman]; Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York (1960–80)

  • Exhibition History

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Paintings from Private Collections: Summer Loan Exhibition," July 1–September 1, 1958, no. 119 (lent by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Oil Sketches by 18th Century Italian Artists from New York Collections," January 30–March 21, 1971, no. 30 (lent by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Giambattista Tiepolo, 1696–1770," January 24–April 27, 1997, no. 54b.

  • References

    Antonio Morassi. Tiepolo. Bergamo, 1943, p. 48, no. 125, pl. 125, identifies this painting as a sketch by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo for the ceiling of the Saleta in the Palacio Real, Madrid, datable about 1764–66, and formerly with the Van Diemen Gallery, Berlin.

    F[rancisco]. J[avier]. Sánchez Cantón. J. B. Tiepolo en España. Madrid, 1953, pp. 17–18, believes this is the later of the two sketches for the ceiling of the Saleta [the other sketch being MMA 37.165.3].

    Antonio Morassi. G. B. Tiepolo: His Life and Work. London, 1955, p. 150, as one of two sketches for the ceiling of the Saleta.

    "Aportaciones recientes a la historia del arte español." Archivo español de arte 34, no. 134 (1961), p. 187, no. 178, pl. 3.

    Antonio Morassi. A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings of G. B. Tiepolo. London, 1962, pp. 21, 33, 37, fig. 321.

    Goya and His Times. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts. London, 1963, p. 5.

    Anna Pallucchini in L'opera completa di Giambattista Tiepolo. Milan, 1968, pp. 130, 132, no. 279 D1, ill., as the later of the two sketches, and the true model for the ceiling of the Saleta.

    Claus Virch. "Dreams of Heaven and Earth: Giambattista and Domenico Tiepolo in the Wrightsman Collection." Apollo 90 (September 1969), pp. 175, 178, ill., dates this sketch about 1764, noting that the fresco is an amalgamation of motifs from both of the MMA sketches.

    J. Byam Shaw. "The Biron Collection of Eighteenth-Century Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum." Metropolitan Museum Journal 3 (1970), p. 239, comments that "it is difficult to decide which of the two sketches preceded the other".

    Oil Sketches by 18th Century Italian Artists from New York Collections. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. [New York], 1971, p. 9, no. 30, believes this work was executed before the other MMA sketch, as the latter shares more details with the fresco.

    Everett Fahy in "Paintings, Drawings." The Wrightsman Collection. 5, [New York], 1973, pp. 248–56, no. 26, ill. p. 249 (color), figs. 1–3 (details), finds it impossible to judge which of the two sketches is later.

    Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Venetian School. New York, 1973, p. 59, note that of the two sketches this one is closer to the final fresco.

    John Pope-Hennessy in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1980–1981. New York, 1981, pp. 44–45, ill. (color), as a "somewhat later study" than the other one in the Museum's collection.

    Michael Levey. Giambattista Tiepolo: His Life and Art. New Haven, 1986, pp. 263–64, observes that neither of the existing sketches can claim to be in itself the modello and that both sketches may have been submitted to the King as preliminary ideas; notes that this sketch was executed on a larger canvas and that it quotes the image of the puma that appears in Tiepolo's throne room fresco, but not in the Saleta fresco.

    Beverly Louise Brown. Giambattista Tiepolo: Master of the Oil Sketch. Exh. cat., Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth. Milan, 1993, pp. 310–12, no. 56, ill. (color), believes that neither of the MMA sketches served as the explicit modello for the finished fresco, which is the synthesis of motifs in both works; suggests that Tiepolo worked on both sketches simultaneously—as he changed the rectangular format to an oval in both works—and that he presented them to Charles III and his advisors as alternatives to choose between.

    Massimo Gemin and Filippo Pedrocco. Giambattista Tiepolo: i dipinti, opera completa. Venice, 1993, pp. 200, 488, no. 518b, ill., believes this work was created after the other Museum sketch.

    Rodolfo Pallucchini. La pittura nel Veneto: il Settecento. 1, Milan, 1995, p. 471, as the later of the two MMA sketches; erroneously as still in the Wrightsman collection.

    Keith Christiansen et al. in Giambattista Tiepolo, 1696–1770. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1996, pp. 286, 328–33, no. 54b. ill. (color) [Italian ed., Milan, 1996], comments on the many differences in the secondary figures included in this work and the other MMA sketch, noting that the final ceiling incorporates elements of both, at the same time introducing completely new features; observes that the iconographical program of the Saleta was described in detail by Francisco José Fabre in a guide for King Ferdinand VII in 1829.

    William L. Barcham. "'E chi non potrebbe cantare facilmente Febo?'." Giambattista Tiepolo nel terzo centenario della nascita. Padua, 1998, vol. 1, pp. 255–56, vol. 2, p. 93, fig. 2, discusses the relative importance Apollo assumes in the two oil sketches and his culminating role in the fresco.

    Chantal Eschenfelder. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1696–1770. Cologne, 1998, p. 133.

    Andrea Kirsh and Rustin S. Levenson. Seeing Through Paintings: Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies. New Haven, 2000, p. 272 n. 6, refers to this work or 37.165.3.

    Everett Fahy in The Wrightsman Pictures. New York, 2005, pp. 96–99, no. 28, ill. (color).

    Xavier F. Salomon in Giambattista Tiepolo: "il miglior pittore di Venezia". Exh. cat., Villa Manin di Passariano. Codroipo, 2012, p. 249, under no. 46.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History