All Spirit and Fire: Oil Sketches by Tiepolo

Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, until 29 May


Tiepolo, Saint Pachal
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Saint Pachal Baylon's Vision of the Eucharist, 1767. Oil on Canvas, Samuel Courtauld Trust, Detail
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1690-1770) was one of the greatest and most inventive artists of the 18th century. His fame derives principally from his monumental frescoes and altarpieces, but much of his finest work can be appreciated most readily in the small oil sketches which he made in association with these grand compositions. They exemplify the qualities of ‘all spirit and fire’ (tutto spirito e foco) which a contemporary, Vincenzo da Canal, saw as characteristic of Tiepolo’s work.

By this time oil sketches were a standard part of the painter’s repertoire. Whilst most artists worked out their initial ideas in drawings, Tiepolo often preferred to start his pictorial thinking with an oil sketch. All Spirit and Fire is the first exhibition to examine in detail the synergy between painting and drawing which was at the heart of Tiepolo’s artistic production. The evolution of certain key commissions, including the Palazzo Labia Ballroom, and Tiepolo’s final commission – a series of altarpieces for the Spanish church of San Pascual, Aranjuez – is reconstructed through the juxtaposition of forty drawings and paintings. 

The exhibition is centred upon the remarkable group of Tiepolo’s small-scale works bequeathed to the Courtauld by Count Seilern in 1978, supplemented by generous loans from eight other British public collections. All Spirit and Fire was devised in collaboration with the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, and has been most kindly supported by the Friends of the Courtauld Institute of Art. We are extremely grateful for the support of the Friends, which has enabled us to produce a free interpretative guide for every exhibition visitor.

Dr Caroline Campbell – Curator of Paintings

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