Antonio Morassi was the first to document the present pair of paintings (op.cit., 1956, pp. 227-232), considering them to be an early collaboration datable to circa 1716-18 between the young Giambattista Tiepolo, who was responsible for the all the figures, including the statuary and bas-reliefs, and the quadratista Gerolamo Mengozzi-Colonna. In his 1962 monograph, Morassi reaffirmed this attribution (loc. cit), but dated them slightly later, to circa 1720. This attribution has been questioned by Anna Palluchini (loc. cit.) and rejected by Gonzáles-Palacios (loc. cit.) and more recently by Gemin and Pedrocco (1993), who cite a proposed attribution by Martini to Francesco Fontebasso and Francesco Battaglioli, 'Probabilmente le architetture spettano al Battaglioli e le figure al Fontebasso.'; loc. cit.). However, Morassi's view has found support among many scholars, including Giuliano Briganti, who considers the pair 'esempi molto importanti che riguardano l'attività del Tiepolo. Le architetture stesse di altissima qualità' (undated letter), Aldo Rizzi (1971; op. cit.), who notes the 'eccezionale maestria' with which the figures are executed, and Rodolfo Palluchini (1986; op. cit.). More recently Professor Adriano Mariuz (private communication, 27 September 2000) has kindly reconfirmed, on the basis of transparencies, Morassi's original attribution to Tiepolo and Mengozzi-Colonna, while Dario Succi (private communication, 26 August 2000), also on the basis of photographs, gives the figures to Tiepolo ('il cui livello qualitativo è incompatibile con l'attribuzione a Fontebasso'), but suggests for the architecture an alternative attribution to Antonio Visentini (1688-1782), who collaborated with Tiepolo in the 1740s. Succi dates the works on stylistic grounds to circa 1726-28. Dr. Keith Christiansen, who has inspected this pair in person, has also accepted the attribution of the figures and statuary to Tiepolo working with a specialist in quadratura, perhaps Mengozzi-Colonna. We are grateful to Dr. Christiansen for his assistance in preparing this note.
Girolamo Mengozzi-Colonna collaborated regularly with Tiepolo until the latter's departure for Spain in 1762. Born in Ferrara in 1688, Mengozzi-Colonna trained initially under the quadraturisti Francesco Scala and Antonio Ferrari, from whom he learnt the grand Bolognese style of architectural painting developed by Bibiena. He moved to Venice at the beginning of the 18th century and it was there that he met Tiepolo, eight years his junior. He provided the often brilliant quadratura for a number of fresco cycles by the Venetian master, the earliest known being those in the Palazzo Dolfin, now Archivescovado, in Udine, dating from circa 1725-28. Their association continued for many years and included the masterly frescoes of the Meeting of Anthony and Cleopatra and the Banquet of Anthony and Cleopatra, in Palazzo Labia, Venice (circa 1744) and the mythological scenes from the Aeneid, the Iliad, Ariosto's Orlando Furioso and Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata in the Villa Valmarana, Vicenza (1757).
The present pair of architectural paintings are of interest for they are the only known example of a collaboration between the two artists on vedute, that is where Tiepolo has supplied the staffage and statuary for architectural interiors by Mengozzi-Colonna, rather than the latter providing the illusionistic quadratura for Tiepolo's figures. There is only one other known example of a veduta by the Mengozza-Colonna, which is in fact a modello for the perspective settings for the 1750 production of Scarlatti's Siroe at the Teatro Regio, on which he collaborated with Crosato (Galleria Subauda, Turin; see K. Christiansen, 'Tiepolo, Theater and the Notion of Theatricality', The Art Bulletin, p. 668, fig. 3). That Mengozzi-Colonna should be involved in a theatrical production is not surprising, for he was also known to have been employed by the Venetian theaters of San Giovanni Crisostomo and San Samuele. Further, as Christiansen notes (op. cit., p. 666), it is a matter of record that some Venetian artists, such as Sebastiano and Marco Ricci, occasionally worked as set designers, often in collaboration with specialists in perspective. There is, however, no record that Tiepolo ever designed for the theater, and it is thus tempting to speculate that the present pair of paintings might then be a singular example of Tiepolo's involvement in a theatrical project. Certainly the strong diagonal recession in the compositions, particularly that illustrated left, is similar to the illusionistic backdrops deployed in contemporary stage sets. Such a hypothesis, however, rests largely on the precise identification of the subjects of the two paintings, and more specifically whether they represent scenes from a known opera or play, rather than merely depicting historical events from antiquity. Thus far, however, the subjects have not been established with certainty: Morassi (op.cit., 1959, pp. 228) proposed that the group of Greco-Roman soldiers and women dressed in white at the top of the grand staircase in the composition illustrated left may depict the family of Darius before Alexander the Great, while the young man seated next to an armillary sphere at the top of the stairs in the other picture may be Archimedes studying in an ancient library, possibly the great Mouseion in Alexandria, where the great Greek mathematician and inventor studied in his youth, or the Serapeion, a subsidiary library, established circa 235 B.C.. That the setting of the latter work -- with its shelves stacked with books -- can be identified as an ancient library seems plausible, but the suggestion that the female figures dressed in white in the former painting are the family of Darius seems less tenable. Rather they resemble more closely a group of Vestal Virgins. However, there appears to be no known contemporary theatrical production on this theme (although there was an opera, La Vestale, with music by Gasparo Spontini, which opened some years later in Paris in 1807).
Although Morassi (op. cit., 1959) suggested a date of execution towards the end of the second decade for this architectural pair, the general concensus is that a dating to the mid-to-late half of the third decade is more accurate (see above). This places the pair around the time of the artists' collaboration on the frescoes in the Palazzo Dolphin, Udine. However, there are also stylistic similarities with the project Tiepolo was working on prior to the Udine cycle, the Allegory of the Power of Eloquence in the salone of the Palazzo Sandi, Venice dated to circa 1724-5, for which there is a preparatory sketch in the Courtauld Institute, London. The figures in both the present pair and the latter sketch have similar 'squared-off' features and there is a similar palette of acid green, red and blue juxtaposed with white in both works (see, for example, the foreground group in the painting illustrated right). This dating is of interest, for not only does it mark the earliest known collaboration between the two artists, but it also coincides with that of the famous series of Allegorical Tomb paintings commissioned by Owen McSwiney, the Irish theatre impressario, in the 1720s. The works in this series were executed by leading Venetian and Bolognese artists (such as Sebastiano and Marco Ricci, Giambattista Piazzetta, Canaletto and Donato Creti) and were collaborative efforts between figure painters and specialists in architecture and landscapes, something they clearly have in common with the present architectural interiors. As such, it is tempting to speculate that Tiepolo, who is a notable omission from the list of Venetian artists involved in McSwiney's project, may at the time have been otherwise enagaged on a similar series of paintings of a somewhat unusual nature.
The monumental architectural settings are striking. As Morassi notes (op.cit., 1959, pp. 228-229) there is '... a solemn architecture, splendidly articulated, painted with a masterly feel for perspective, which the spectator is made all the aware of by the artful effects of the light'. Both compositions are illuminated from the left and are enlivened by strong contrasts of light and dark. In the library scene, the light advances towards the viewer creating a striking play of brilliant highlights and deep shadows across the sides of the staircase and through the two open doors in the foreground. In the other scene, however, the light is directed towards the back of the composition, illuminating with greater intensity the columns and pilasters on the left as it recedes, before reaching the background which 'dissolves into an impalpable mist of light' (ibid.). Tiepolo's staffage, which has been much praised (see above), shows sensitivity to this play of light and is indicative of the collaborative nature of the project. For example, in the composition illustrated right, Tiepolo has so arranged the foreground group that the strong light advancing from the left background can illuminate the colored clothes of the figures, thereby punctuating the strong chiaroscuro of the architecture with accents of color: the fainting old man leans back just enough for the light to fall across his face and highlight his brilliant white gown, while the slight twist in the body of figure climbing the stairs results in the full illumination of his acid green robes. In the same painting, Tiepolo has also added a more playful touch, placing a dog descending the otherwise fully lit staircase on the left to serve as a perfect foil to the patch of light in the darkened doorway on the right.