Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Allegory of the Planets and Continents

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Italian, Venice 1696–1770 Madrid)
Oil on canvas
73 x 54 7/8 in. (185.4 x 139.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1977
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 622
This picture, Tiepolo's largest and most dazzling oil sketch, represents Apollo about to embark on his daily course across the sky. Deities around the sun god symbolize the planets, and allegorical figures on the cornice represent the four continents. Tiepolo presented this preliminary sketch to Carl Philipp von Greiffenklau, the prince-bishop of Würzburg, on April 20, 1752, as his proposal for the decoration of the vast staircase ceiling of the Residenz, often considered the artist's greatest achievement.
From December 1750 to November 1753, Tiepolo was employed in Würzburg by Prince-Bishop Carl Philipp von Greiffenclau to decorate his magnificent palace, the Residenz, designed by Balthasar Neumann. The artist's first commission was to fresco the banqueting room, the Kaisersaal. This work is the modello for Tiepolo's decoration of the ceiling above the grand staircase, for which he received the formal commission in July 1752. Earlier decorative programs divided the vault of the stairway into separate fields treating historical subjects. The revised program, inspired by the succession of Greiffenclau as prince-bishop in 1749 and his decision to engage Tiepolo to decorate the Residenz, abandoned history in favor of a more conventional allegory lauding the prince-bishop as Apollo, the god of light and patron of the arts, illuminating—both literally and figuratively—the four corners of the earth.

Tiepolo's composition centers on the figure of Apollo as he prepares to make his daily journey across the heavens (see Additional Images, fig. 1). In front of and below him butterfly-winged Hours (Horae) present his horses and reins, and putti push his heavy gold chariot up a bank of clouds. Around him are grouped the Olympian gods who govern the planets. Most prominent are Venus and Mars, who repose on a dark cloud. Rotating 180 degrees, we have Mercury, his right hand pointing toward Apollo's horses as he announces the beginning of another day to Jupiter. Around the cornice are grouped depictions of the four continents. Figures at the four corners are painted in monochrome, to be created in stucco by Antonio Bossi, Tiepolo's collaborator, along with his son Giandomenico, on the project.

The most important difference between the modello and the ceiling is the transposition of the continents of Europe and America. The result of this change is that rather than initiating the visitor's experience as she does in the modello, in the fresco Europe has become its climax, heightened by the addition of an oval portrait of Greiffenclau held aloft by Fame and Glory (or Virtue). Another change from the modello to the fresco is that in the former the light source is imagined as emanating from Apollo rather than from the various windows in the stairwell. These and the many other changes, including a number of a secco revisions, underscore Tiepolo's restless genius and illuminate the fact that even a modello of this size and complexity documents only a stage in a constantly evolving process: a process that took place within the established limits of traditional fresco practice and balanced artistic license with iconographic models. Clearly, the modello had a dual function. If, on the one hand, it proposed an iconographic scheme, on the other, it served as an independent demonstration of Tiepolo's fantasy and artistic brilliance.

[2010; adapted from Christiansen 1996]
Inscription: Inscribed (sides): EVROPA / AFRICÆ / AMERICA / ASIA
the artist, Venice (1752–d. 1770); his son, Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, Venice (1770–d. 1804); Antonio Canova, Venice (by 1811–d. 1822); his half-brother and heir, Giovanni Battista Sartori (from 1822); Samuel Ware, Hendon Hall, London (by 1850–60; ms. cat., 1850, no. 210); Charles Nathaniel Cumberlege-Ware, Hendon Hall (1860–about 1870); C. F. Hancock, Hendon Hall (by 1890); Hendon Hall Hotel (by 1923–54); [art market, London, 1954–56]; [Rosenberg & Stiebel, New York, and Fritz and Peter Nathan, Zurich, 1956; sold to Wrightsman]; Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York (1956–77; cat., 1973, no. 25)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Paintings from Private Collections: Summer Loan Exhibition," July 6–September 4, 1960, no. 118 (lent by Mr. and Mrs. Charles B. 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. 27 (lent by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Giambattista Tiepolo, 1696–1770," January 24–April 27, 1997, no. 49.

Edward T. Evans. The History and Topography of the Parish of Hendon, Middlesex. London, 1890, pp. 239–40, notes that there is a painted ceiling in a lobby off the hall at Hendon Hall, and identifies the subject as the four quarters of the globe; states that all the paintings "are said to have been inserted by the direction of [David] Garrick himself".

"Tiepolo Discovery: Painting on Hotel Ceiling." Times (March 31, 1954), p. 5, ill. (detail), notes that the picture mentioned in Evans's "History of Hendon" (1890) was recognized by a Mr. J. B. Gold as a study by Tiepolo for the Würzburg painting of Olympus and the four continents; believes that the Hendon Hall work was a study for the ceiling, rather than a later variant or version of the composition, since it differs in a number of details from the large painting; reports that Mr. Gold believes the picture was acquired and put up by Brian Scotney who bought the house after Mrs. Garrick's death in 1822.

Illustrated London News (April 10, 1954), p. 559, ill., mentions it as a new find.

Antonio Morassi. G. B. Tiepolo: His Life and Work. London, 1955, p. 25, fig. 35, ascribes it to Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, dates it 1752, and calls it a modello for the staircase at Würzburg; titles it "Olympus, the Quarters of the Globe, and other Allegories".

Antonio Morassi. "Some 'Modelli' and other Unpublished Works by Tiepolo." Burlington Magazine 97 (January 1955), p. 4 n. 1, identifies it as a modello by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo for the staircase at Würzburg (1752), newly discovered at the Hendon Hall Hotel, London.

F. J. B. W[atson]. "Giovanni Battista Tiepolo: A Masterpiece and a Book." Connoisseur 136 (November 1955), p. 215, describes it as a sketch, either for or after the ceiling, noting that even if it is a later record it could be by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

Antonio Morassi. Letter. April 24, 1956, confirms the attribution to Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, regarding it as the preparatory sketch that Tiepolo presented to the prince-bishop in April 1752.

Max H. Von Freeden and Carl Lamb. Das Meisterwerk des Giovanni Battista Tiepolo: Die Fresken der Würzburger Residenz. Munich, 1956, pp. 29, 53–61, 77, 80, 84, 87–88, 91, 93, 102, pls. 35–40 (overall and details), regard it as the preparatory sketch presented by Tiepolo to the prince-bishop on April 20, 1752 (see Staatsarchiv Würzburg [Histor. Verein], Tagebücher des Hoffouriers Ms. q. 176); suggest that Tiepolo's theme, the allegory of the world, may have been inspired by Rudolf Byss's fresco over the staircase of Schönborn Castle, Pommersfelden; discuss in detail the differences between the painting and the final fresco.

Cyril Connolly. "Style Rococo." Art News Annual 26 (1957), pp. 124–25, ill. (color).

George Knox. "Tiepolo: Die Fresken der Würzburger Residenz." Burlington Magazine 99 (April 1957), p. 129, rejects the attribution to Giovanni Battista Tiepolo on the grounds that the painting's proportions differ from those of the Würzburg ceiling, the groups of Europe and America are reversed, and it is "too 'artistic,' too finished and too detailed"; accepts, however, the thesis that this picture was the one presented by Tiepolo to the prince-bishop on April 20, 1752, but claims that "the chore of preparing such a work may well have been entrusted to Domenico".

Fritz Neugass. "Sommerlicher Ausklang in New York." Weltkunst 30 (August 15, 1960), p. 6, mentions it as a preliminary study by Tiepolo for the Würzburg fresco.

Jack Gold. Letter to Mrs. Wrightsman. November 12, 1961, as "obviously painted before the ceiling, not afterwards as a record"; considers the picture more likely to have been brought to Hendon Hall not by Garrick, but by a later owner, Ware.

Antonio Morassi. A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings of G. B. Tiepolo. London, 1962, pp. 37, 68, calls it one of the most splendid large modelli by Tiepolo.

"Review of J. Byam Shaw, 'The Drawings of Domenico Tiepolo,' London, 1962." Times Literary Supplement (August 31, 1962), p. 652, attributes it to Domenico and calls it "demonstrably not a preparation for the finished ceiling but done after it".

Gerhard Bott. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo: Das Fresko im Treppenhaus der Würzburger Residenz. 2nd ed. Stuttgart, 1963, pp. 8–10, 13–14, figs. 12–13 (overall and detail), describes it as Tiepolo's "Modell" for the Würzburg ceiling, probably the one presented to the prince-bishop.

Francis Watson. "G. B. Tiepolo: Pioneer of Modernism." Apollo 77 (March 1963), pp. 247–48, argues that it was made as a record of the Würzburg ceiling by Domenico Tiepolo, because it is painted on a red bole ground and because the proportions of the figures in relation to the overall dimensions of the composition differ from those of the ceiling fresco; suggests tentatively that a series of Domenico's red chalk drawings after the frescoes were "actually produced with the idea of such a modelletto in mind".

Gerhard Bott. "Zur Ikonographie des Treppenfreskos von Giovanni Battista Tiepolo in der Würzburger Residenz." Anzeiger des Germanischen Nationalmuseums (1965), pp. 140–64, fig. 2, considers it an autograph work by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, very likely the sketch that was presented to the prince-bishop on April 20, 1752; discusses the iconography of the fresco.

Anna Pallucchini in L'opera completa di Giambattista Tiepolo. Milan, 1968, p. 116, no. 199d, fig. 199d-h, accepts it as the sketch that Tiepolo presented to the prince-bishop in 1752.

Claus Virch. "Dreams of Heaven and Earth: Giambattista and Domenico Tiepolo in the Wrightsman Collection." Apollo 90 (September 1969), pp. 173–74, 176–78, fig. 3, attributes it to Giambattista, rejecting the notion that it could have been made by Domenico.

Francis Watson. Letter to Everett Fahy. April 15, 1970, concludes that it was painted after the ceiling, as a modello would certainly have made reference to Greiffenklau or the prince-bishop, its program being the glorification of the house of Greiffenklau; comments that it is "by no means certain that the picture was painted immediately after the execution of the ceiling".

Oil Sketches by 18th Century Italian Artists from New York Collections. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. [New York], 1971, p. 8, no. 27.

Aldo Rizzi. Mostra del Tiepolo. Exh. cat., Villa Manin di Passariano. Vol. [1], "Dipinti."[Milan], [1971], p. 107, fig. 58, reproduces it as Giambattista's "modelletto" for the Würzburg ceiling.

Erika Simon. "Sol, Virtus und Veritas im Würzburger Treppenhausfresko des Giovanni Battista Tiepolo." Pantheon 29 (November–December 1971), pp. 484, 486, 494, 496 n. 11, fig. 2, accepts it as Giambattista's preliminary study for the Würzburg fresco, which she interprets as an allegory of divine truth encompassing the universe; maintains that the statuette held by Apollo symbolizes Veritas, rather than the Arts or Victory, as some previous writers had suggested.

Mercedes Precerutti Garberi. Giambattista Tiepolo: gli affreschi. Turin, 1971, p. 87, lists it as Giambattista's sketch for the "Olympus" at Würzburg.

Dr. Fritz Nathan und Dr. Peter Nathan, 1922–1972. Zürich, 1972, unpaginated, no. 19, ill., illustrate it as one of the pictures sold by the Nathan firm.

Everett Fahy in The Wrightsman Collection. Vol. 5, Paintings, Drawings. [New York], 1973, pp. 232–47, no. 25, ill. p. 233 (color), figs. 1–9 (details), catalogues it as Giovanni Battista Tiepolo's sketch for the staircase ceiling at Würzburg, possibly identical to the one presented to the prince-bishop on April 20, 1752; notes that the iconographical scheme is similar to the ceiling of the Palazzo Clerici, which Tiepolo had decorated less than two decades earlier; suggests that Tiepolo's design could also have been inspired by the large fresco by Johann Rudolf Byss over the staircase of the Schönborn Castle at Pommersfelden, which was located only a few miles from Würzburg; points out that the most significant difference in composition between the fresco and the oil painting is that the latter does not show the prince-bishop or his retinue.

R. A. Cecil. "The Wrightsman Collection." Burlington Magazine 118 (July 1976), p. 518.

Mark Ashton. "Allegory, Fact, and Meaning in Giambattista Tiepolo's Four Continents in Würzburg." Art Bulletin 60 (March 1978), p. 121, fig. 16, notes that Tiepolo had to shift the various deities in order to introduce the prince-bishop's portrait above Europe (his home continent) in the final fresco, and that this therefore "cancels any suspicion that the planetary deities have important iconographic links to the earth".

Dean Walker in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1975–1979. New York, 1979, p. 53, ill.

Frank Büttner. "Die Sonne Frankens: Ikonographie des Freskos im Treppenhaus der Würzburger Residenz." Münchner Jahrbuch der Bildenden Kunst 30 (1979), pp. 161–64, 166, 173, 178, 181 n. 6, figs. 3–5 (overall and details), identifies the statue in Apollo's hand as Fortune, noting that Veritas would have been nude.

George Knox. Tiepolo, tecnica e immaginazione. Exh. cat., Palazzo Ducale. Venice, 1979, p. 82.

Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 352, 358, fig. 646 (color).

Frank Büttner. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo: Die Fresken in der Residenz zu Würzburg. Würzburg, 1980, pp. 64, 94, 97–98, 100, 106, 109–10, 118, 120–21, ill. p. 68.

George Knox. Giambattista and Domenico Tiepolo: A Study and Catalogue Raisonné of the Chalk Drawings. Oxford, 1980, vol. 1, p. 44.

Michael Levey. Giambattista Tiepolo: His Life and Art. New Haven, 1986, pp. 191, 194–95, pl. 176.

Hermann Bauer. "Tiepolos monumentale Capricci." Festschrift für Hartmut Biermann. Ed. Christoph Andreas, Maraike Bückling, and Roland Dorn. Weinheim, 1990, p. 176.

Massimo Gemin and Filippo Pedrocco. Giambattista Tiepolo: i dipinti, opera completa. Venice, 1993, pp. 426–27, no. 415a, ill., note that in painting this subject Tiepolo kept in mind the example he had executed in the Palazzo Clerici, Milan.

Svetlana Alpers and Michael Baxandall. Tiepolo and the Pictorial Intelligence. New Haven, 1994, pp. 74, 129–30, 135, 142, colorpls. 144, 146, 151a–c (overall and details), note that the artist expands the original material into the fresco in three main ways: lateralizing, stretching, and splitting.

Adriano Mariuz and Giuseppe Pavanello. "Disegni inediti di Antonio Canova da un taccuino 'Canal"." Saggi e memorie di storia dell'arte 19 (1994), p. 352 n. 37, identify it with a work listed on "Nota di alcuni dipinti di diversi autori, colle misure in piedi Veneti" (Archivio di Casa Canova, Possagno) as "Tiepoletto. Bozzetto assai condotto di un soffitto rappresentante Apollo nel Sole che illumina e vivifica le quattro parti del mondo. Di bella conservazione. Alto piedi 3.11 largo p. 5.3"; note that this work no longer appears on subsequent lists of Canova's collection inherited by his half-brother, Giovanni Battista Sartori.

Rodolfo Pallucchini. La pittura nel Veneto: il Settecento. Vol. 1, Milan, 1995, p. 437.

Giuseppe Pavanello. Sulla collezione di Antonio Canova: i cassoni degli argonauti di "Ercole da Ferrara". Padua, 1995, p. 279 n. 22, p. 280, publishes the list of paintings in Canova's collection (see Mariuz and Pavanello 1994), where he identifies this work as no. 8; observes that it was acquired by Canova following the death of Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo in 1804.

Marina Magrini in Splendori del Settecento veneziano. Ed. Giovanna Nepi Sciré and Giandomenico Romanelli. Exh. cat., Ca' Rezzonico, Venice. Milan, 1995, p. 256, under no. 62.

Keith Christiansen et al. in Giambattista Tiepolo, 1696–1770. Ed. Keith Christiansen. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1996, pp. 8, 32, 110, 278, 286, 302–4, 306–11, 325, no. 49, ill. (color, overall and details) [Italian ed., "Giambattista Tiepolo, 1696–1996," Milan, 1996], notes that the fresco sacrifices the discrete compositional unity of the modello, which was meant to be taken in by the patron at a glance.

Peter O. Krückmann in Der Himmel auf Erden: Tiepolo in Würzburg. Ed. Peter O. Krückmann. Exh. cat., Residenz Würzburg. Munich, 1996, vol. 1, pp. 36, 98–99, ill. (color).

Peter O. Krückmann. Heaven on Earth: Tiepolo, Masterpieces of the Würzburg Years. Munich, 1996, pp. 91–95, fig. 87 (color).

Giuseppe Pavanello. Canova collezionista di Tiepolo. Monfalcone, 1996, pp. 8, 18, 21, 27, 29, 69 n. 23, p. 73 n. 47, p. 74 nn. 48, 49, ill. pp. 6, 28 (overall and detail), identifies it with "il modello del soffitto dipinto in Spagna [sic] con le quattro parti del mondo" listed among works remaining in Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo's house after his death, included in a letter of March 26, 1804, from Ferdinando Tonioli to Canova, noting that the dimensions of "alto piedi 5,4 e largo piedi 4" exactly match the MMA canvas; also identifies it with "un quadro di palmi 6 e 8 rappresentante Le quattro parti del Mondo" included on a list of August 2, 1811, of Canova's paintings to be lined in Rome; further specifies that the "Nota di alcuni dipinti", on which this picture appears as no. 8 (see Mariuz and Pavanello 1994 and Pavanello 1995), is a list of works belonging to Canova's half-brother and heir, Giovanni Battista Sartori, and intended to be put up for sale.

Bernard Aikema. Tiepolo and His Circle: Drawings in American Collections. Exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums. New York, 1996, p. 240.

Matthias Staschull in Der Himmel auf Erden: Tiepolo in Würzburg. Ed. Peter O. Krückmann. Exh. cat., Residenz Würzburg. Munich, 1996, vol. 2, p. 132.

Gianfranco Malafarina. "The Fresco on the Ceremonial Staircase." FMR no. 84 (February 1997), p. 50.

Rosella Mamoli Zorzi. "Tiepolo, Henry James, and Edith Wharton." Metropolitan Museum Journal 33 (1998), p. 226, fig. 13, mentions it in a discussion of Henry James's reaction to Tiepolo's works.

Keith Christiansen. "The Ca' Dolfin Tiepolos." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 55 (Spring 1998), p. 15, fig. 11 (color).

Stéphane Loire and José de Los Llanos in Giambattista Tiepolo, 1696–1770. Exh. cat., Musée du Petit Palais. Paris, 1998, p. 230 n. 12, under no. 76, compare the placement of the figure of Apollo in the MMA picture with that of the figures of Spain and Hercules in "Wealth and Benefits of the Spanish Monarchy under Charles III" (National Gallery of Art, Washington).

Georges Brunel in Giambattista Tiepolo, 1696–1770. Exh. cat., Musée du Petit Palais. Paris, 1998, p. 46, fig. 21.

Giuseppe Pavanello. "La collezione di Antonio Canova: dipinti e disegni dal Quattrocento all'Ottocento." Antonio Canova e il suo ambiente artistico fra Venezia, Roma e Parigi. Ed. Giuseppe Pavanello. Venice, 2000, pp. 345–46, 352, pl. 21.

Hilliard T. Goldfarb. "Oil Sketches in the Practice of Tiepolo and his Studio at Würzburg." Festschrift für Konrad Oberhuber. Ed. Achim Gnann and Heinz Widauer. Milan, 2000, p. 214 n. 22.

Filippo Pedrocco. Giambattista Tiepolo. Milan, 2002, p. 289, no. 229.a, ill.

Alessandro Bettagno and Marina Magrini. Lettere artistiche del Settecento veneziano. Vol. 1, Vicenza, 2002, p. 54 n. 93, p. 184 n. 279, p. 466 n. 14.

Peter Stephan. "Im Glanz der Majestät des Reiches," Tiepolo und die Würzburger Residenz: Die Reichsidee der Schönborn und die politische Ikonologie des Barock. Weißenhorn, 2002, vol. 1, pp. 72, 151, 154; vol. 2, p. 7, colorpl. 43.

Everett Fahy in The Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, pp. 93–96, no. 27, ill. (color).

Keith Christiansen in Philippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977–2008. New York, 2009, p. 36.

Linda Borean. "Dalla galleria al 'museo': un viaggio attraverso pitture, disegni e stampe nel collezionismo veneziano del Settecento." Il collezionismo d'arte a Venezia: il Settecento. Ed. Linda Borean and Stefania Mason. Venice, 2009, p. 27, fig. 19.

Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 420, no. 286, ill. pp. 304, 420 (color).

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