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Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Venice 1696-1770 Madrid)
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Venice 1696-1770 Madrid)

Figure studies for the fresco ceiling over the Neumann Staircase in the Residenz, Würzburg: Mars and a captive

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Venice 1696-1770 Madrid)
Figure studies for the fresco ceiling over the Neumann Staircase in the Residenz, Würzburg: Mars and a captive
red and white chalk on blue paper
12¾ x 22¼ in. (32.4 x 56.4 cm.)
Private Collection, Germany.

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Harriet West
Harriet West

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Lot Essay

This large-scale and previously unpublished drawing includes preparatory studies for the figure of Mars and for a prostrate captive, both of whom appear in the fresco of Apollo and the Continents above the main staircase of the Residenz at Würzburg. Between 1750 and 1753, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and his sons Domenico and Lorenzo executed a monumental decorative scheme in this palace of the Prince-Bishops of Würzburg, which had been completed only a few years previously.

The imposing male nude at the left-hand side of the sheet, surrounded by subsidiary sketches of the model's arm and leg, is a study for the figure of Mars. Shown seated in the clouds above the Continent of America in the fresco, the fully-clothed Mars bears a shield on his right arm and carries a lance in his left hand (Fig. 2). Another drawing by Tiepolo for the same figure survives in the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin (inv. 11824; illustrated in exhib. cat., Der Himmel auf Erden: Tiepolo in Würzburg, Würzburg, 1996, vol. I, p. 103, no. 33). In the Berlin sheet the model's pose is more exploratory, without the close relationship to the final figure which is visible in the present drawing. At the lower right of the present sheet, a loosely-sketched torso and arm provide a link between the pose on the Berlin drawing, where the model's torso and head are turned more towards the viewer, and the final pose as shown at upper left, in which Tiepolo has already increased the sotto in su perspective necessary for the finished work. On the right-hand side of the sheet Tiepolo has included a study of a reclining nude with his arm across his face, which can be linked to the figure of the bound slave in the Continent of Asia who lies directly beneath the figure of Asia herself (Fig. 3).

It was during his time at Würzburg that Giovanni Battista began to use chalk drawings as an essential part of his preparatory process, increasingly turning away from the pen and wash he had primarily used in earlier decades for his preliminary studies. The medium of chalk allowed him to create studies of great power and plasticity, which perfectly suited the monumental grandeur of his vision for the frescoes. The vast majority of surviving drawings for the project are now in German museums, notably Stuttgart, although few can rival the present sheet in its scale and power.

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