Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (Venice 1727 - Venice 1804)

The Raising of the Cross Sold

Pen and brown ink and brown wash, with framing lines in brown ink, over an underdrawing in black chalk.
Signed Dom.o Tiepolo f. at the lower right.
465 x 362 mm. (18 1/4 x 14 1/4 in.)


This large and impressive sheet is part of a distinctive group of over three hundred highly finished drawings executed by Domenico Tiepolo over a period of several years following his return from Spain in 1770, and probably through the 1790’s. Entitled the ‘Large Biblical Series’ by James Byam Shaw, these large drawings in pen and ink wash – each measuring approximately 460 x 350 mm. - depict subjects taken mainly from the Old and New Testaments (primarily the Gospels, Parables and the Acts of the Apostles, particularly the lives of Saints Peter and Paul), as well as from fragmentary gospels and the Apocrypha. As one modern scholar has noted of this series, ‘All vertical in format, often with lavish landscape or architectural settings, the drawings are the most exhaustive exploration of biblical subjects by a single eighteenth-century artist. Even in the context of Italy, where the traditions of religious painting remained very much alive despite the impact of the Enlightenment, Domenico’s sustained fascination with biblical subjects in extraordinary, particularly since it is assumed that he drew them primarily to please himself, rather than at the behest of an ecclesiastical patron.’

While it has been proposed that these drawings may have been intended as book illustrations, the fact that many of the compositions are signed in full would suggest instead that they were always regarded by the artist as independent, finished works. Byam Shaw notes that, ‘They are essentially 'album drawings', intended not as studies for painting or etching, but as works of art in their own right; and they belong to a period when drawing, rather than painting, was Domenico’s chief occupation.’

Set in elaborate interior or landscape settings and often crowded with figures, the drawings of the ‘Large Biblical Series’ are among Domenico’s masterpieces as a draughtsman, executed with an assurance of handling and a fluidity of tonal washes that is often quite breathtaking. As George Knox has written, ‘[Domenico Tiepolo’s] most extensive and perhaps his most remarkable work as a draughtsman...The Large Biblical Series is a summation in more ways than one. For the first time, Domenico draws on the full resources of the Tiepolo studio, his own visual memory, his folios of drawings, and the vast accumulation of drawings by his father...Even so, by far the greater part of these compositions are entirely original inventions.’ It is likely that the artist kept the drawings in his studio until his death, as no prints were made of them.

Only recently discovered in a French private collection, this large and powerful drawing of The Raising of the Cross is a new and striking addition to the ‘Large Biblical Series’. The dramatic composition, with its bold diagonals – a feature of several drawings in the series – adds much to the pathos and power of the scene. The rich, golden tone of the washes, another characteristic element of the drawings of the ‘Large Biblical Series’, though not always seen with such freshness as in the present sheet, is contrasted by areas where the artist has left the surface of the paper untouched to create highlights, as on the body of Christ and the figures below him, all bathed in bright light.

A superb example of Domenico Tiepolo’s vigorous draughtsmanship, the present sheet was previously unknown to scholars and appears never to have been previously exhibited or published. The drawing once belonged to the Parisian collector Paul Suzor who, together with his brother Léon, owned a large number of drawings by Domenico Tiepolo. (Between them the two Suzor bothers owned thirteen of the Punchinello drawings from the Divertimenti per li regazzi series, for example). While many of the drawings in the Suzor collection were dispersed at auction in the 1960’s, the present sheet remained with Paul Suzor’s descendants until 2010.

Probably Victor Luzarche (or Luzarches), Tours
Possibly Camille Rogier
Paul Suzor, Paris
Thence by descent to a private collection, France, until 2010.

Adelheid M. Gealt, Giambattista and Domenico Tiepolo: Master Drawings from the Anthony J. Moravec Collection, exhibition catalogue, Bloomington, Indiana, 2016-2017, p. 60, fig. 3.24.

Giovanni Domenico TIEPOLO

The Raising of the Cross


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