Studies for a shield and a cow head (recto); Study for draping and head of a bearded man (verso)

Giovan Battista Tiepolo

(Venice 1696 – Madrid 1770) Sold

  • 1738 – 40
  • Recto and verso: Red chalk, white chalk on light-blue paper
  • 222 x 238 mm (8.74 x 9.37 in)
  • Watermark: three crescents. Inscriptions: lower right in black pencil, Tiepolo.

Edited by Luca Fiorentino

These two studies in red chalk are important in that they not only testify to the high quality of the Veneto maestro’s execution and technique, but above all in that they offer an ideal link between sketch and finished work.

The sheet should in fact be viewed in relation to the frescoes at Palazzo Clerici in Milan painted by Tiepolo around 1740. The frescoes were commissioned a few years earlier, after Marshall Giorgio Antonio Clerici acquired the palazzo in 1736 prior to his marriage to Fulvia Visconti. The artist made a trip to Milan in 1737, and it is likely that the two met on that occasion1.

Giovan Battista Tiepolo, Allegory of Europa. Palazzo Clerici, Milan
Giovan Battista Tiepolo, Allegory of Europa – Palazzo Clerici, Milan
Giovan Battista Tiepolo, Apollo and the Continents (detail) - Kimbell Art Museum
Giovan Battista Tiepolo, Apollo and the Continents (detail) - Kimbell Art Museum

The study for the shield with the Medusa head is preparatory to its painted counterpart, held by the figure of Mars just below Apollo’s chariot (the central subject of the entire composition) in the cupola of Palazzo Clerici.

A version of the cow’s head appears in the presentation sketch for the Milanese project. This canvas, which is now housed in the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, has a reclining figure on the side to the left of the sun’s chariot (on the right for the viewer), behind which is a mare.

The animal head is more clearly visible in a second sketch held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It is a preparatory drawing for the royal castle of Würzburg (a site on which Tiepolo’s son Domenico also worked). The composition, which is very similar to the Milanese one, depicts a cow’s head in the lower part, amid a few other allegorical figures. Tiepolo may have reused some study drawings to rework compositions with similar subjects, in order to expedite his collaborators’ onsite execution.

This masterful work on paper expresses an exceptional sensibility with regard to color, lighting and tone. It is worthy of comparison to the maestro’s finest drawings. The unfinished qualities of the part of the shield on the right serve admirably to lend depth and structure to the Medusa’s head. The choice of light blue paper, which provides both background and structure, creates a pleasing contrast with the red chalk lines and the subtlety of the carefully measured white chalk touches2.

1 On the large fresco cycle in the Milanese palazzo see:

Rossana Bossaglia, Tiepolo a Milano. L’itinerario lombardo del pittore veneziano, entry by Valerio Terraroli, Milan, 1996;

Filippo Pedrocco, Giambattista Tiepolo, Geneva- Milan, 2002, pp. 244-245 and entries 142 and 142a;

Enrico Lucchese, Attorno alla Galleria di Palazzo Clerici, in Lorenzo Finocchi Ghersi, Tiepolo a Milano. La decorazione dei Palazzi Archinto, Casati e Clerici, Rome, 2016, pp. 69-91.

2 On Tiepolo’s drawings see at least:

Giorgio Vigni, Disegni del Tiepolo, Trieste, 1972; George Knox, Catalogue of the Tiepolo drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1975; Attilia Dorigato, I Tiepolo. Disegni dalle collezioni del Museo Correr, Venice, 2004;

Giambattista Tiepolo tra scherzo e capriccio. Disegni e incisioni di spiritoso e saporitissimo gusto, catalogue from the exhibition curated by Cristina Donazzolo Cristante, Vania Gransinigh, Udine, Castello, Salone del Parlamento May 22-October 31, 2010, Milan, 2010;

Bernard Aikema, Un foglio di Domenico Tiepolo e la questione dei disegni tiepoleschi a gessetto all’epoca di Würzburg, in ‘Bollettino dei Musei Civici Veneziani, 3, series 9-10, 2015, pp. 150-153;

Elisabetta Nardinocchi, Matilde Casati, Tiepolo. Disegni dall’album Horne, Firenze, 2016;

Giambattista Tiepolo. Disegni: opere dai Civici Musei di Trieste, catalogue from the exhibition curated by Luca Camburlotto, texts by Luca Camburlotto, Rossella Fabiani, Giorgio Marini, Lorenza Resciniti, Ferdinand Serblj, Ljubljana Narodna Galerija, June 1-September 3, 2017, Ljubljana, 2017.

Bossi Beyerlen

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