Time Traveling with Tiepolo

Posted on by Ginnie

In the mid 1990s I was creating scroll-like  oil paintings that were, on average, 12 feet long. This format was  influenced in large part by my position in the mid 1980s in New York City as a commercial producer working with the new Ampex Digital Optics (ADO) technology and the art directors who were creating digitally layered videos for commercials and music videos. When I discovered Giambattista Tiepolo’s frescoes and oil paintings in the the late 1990s’ I noticed that Tiepolo preferred an extended strip, a non-illusionistic composition with elements multiplied and splintered, and figures striking attitudes and looking out to the audience. He preferred the horizontal scroll and employed it to great effect in his work for the Residenz in Wurzburg in the mid 18th Century. This was a revelation for me and I further studied this Baroque master.

In 1750 Tiepolo arrived in Wurzburg, capital of Franconia, Germany. His patron, Prince-Bishop Carl Philipp von Greiffenclau had commissioned him to paint frescoes for one of the staterooms, the Kaisersaal, in the palace, as well as the staircase of the Residenz. In the creation of my Tiepolo – themed series of paintings from 1998 – 2000, I studied the details of the staircase frescoes and paintings from the staterooms and immersed myself in the writings of Svetlana Alpers and Michael Baxandall, who wrote, ‘Tiepolo and the Pictorial Intelligence.” Quoting from their text, the following passage sums up my personal approach in the creation of these images and my interest in exploring the gestural motifs from the Baroque era: “The mind plays with images, and they can take different forms: figures can drift between two and three dimensions before full recognition; they are curiously medium-free; they can move in slow motion….the array displays a coherence, but is strange or bizarre; time is not an issue.”

I was reminded recently of a comment one of my drawing professors at Cornell University, Peter Kahn, (brother of the painter Wolf Kahn), made during a critique of my sketchbook. He told me to look at Tiepolo – that we share a similar style in the depiction of figures and folds of cloth. I had forgotten that. On looking at his painting style, I found I could actually move my wrist and arm with the paintings, following his lines as they moved in and around the spaces of his work. I felt that, just as Tiepolo ‘took on’ Veronese as in repertory, I could take on Tiepolo and integrate his images into my figural compositions of the time.


Capricorn 1999 Oil on Canvas 48 x 60 inches

Quoted from ‘The Family of Darius before Alexander’ and ‘Patience Innocence and Chastity’

This is a highly layered, processional composition I employed frequently. It is sequential in the sense that one shape or form suggests another and is very much about edge, contour, and the surface qualities of stone and fabric.

Excerpt from ‘Tiepolo and the Pictorial Intelligence’ (TAPI) P. 40:

‘Tiepolo makes a pattern out of the bodies and props which takes his favored form of a strip – here settled around the lower rim of the rounded and accentuated at one point by the elevated cross…. Events, like bodies, are taken apart and recombined. We are distracted by incongruous connections, mysterious but, perceptually fun.’


Tiepolo Flight 800 1999 Oil on Canvas 48 x 60 inches

Quoted from ‘The Investiture of Bishop Harold as Duke of Franconia’

(TAPI): ‘But the solemn or grinning child who looks out at us with curiosity or amusement from within a Tiepolo picture seems to ask us what is it we are doing out there, looking at a painting.’ – We are viewers watched. When the tables are turned on us, and by a child, we become aware of the oddity of being caught in the act of looking.’ {The painting has entered the present through the act of making us self-conscious of its narration incorporating the viewer into its consciousness – the observer, observed; the voyeur revealed. Toto has pulled away our curtain as a spectator and distracted us from the very trick the artist always plays upon us.}

Here is Tiepolo’s total absorption of Veronese’s colored shadows. As I paint the folds of the dress from a contemporary fashion shoot on the left side of my canvas, my palette answers Tiepolo’s in the employment of pure complementary shadows of pink and turquoise green. Also, as with the garments of Tiepolo’s page, the pazzouli earth red, vermilion and minium orange in the flesh tones of the fashion model’s hand holding the cloth of the dress are complementary to the cloth. Chromatically, my color mixtures are created with the desire to bathe all of the elements in a diffuse luminosity. The central portion of the painting, a detail from a photo of the TWA Flight 800 crash, was part of the media at the time. There were several significant terrorist attacks in the decade prior to 9/11.


Visitation 1999 Oil on Canvas 60 x 48 inches

Quoted from a detail of the fresco Triumph of Apollo

This painting feels autobiographical in some sense and I’m not sure why but pairing the female figure in a blue ‘hoody’ looking upon this scene of the gods frolicking in the clouds is some kind of commentary on the artist being outside of the action, the observer, and also my place in society as a woman and the power of women in fashion as opposed to most other male dominated areas.

 Venice Beach 1999 Oil on Canvas 48 x 60 inches

Quoted from a detail from the fresco the Institution of the Rosary at Santa Maria Dei Gesuati

What drew me to the image was the magical bleached out quality of the clouds and sun in the cobalt violet, pearlescent gray and rose hues. These colors played well with the pink clothed models in a Donna Karan ad in fashion magazines at the time. Their draped forms echoed those of Tiepolo and Veronese.

I mirrored supplicating arms with slashing verticals, looking for a rhythmic build of similar colors and shapes in a futuristic style.



Journey 1999 Oil on Canvas 60 x 48 inches

The figure on the left feels like a freestanding or floating sculpture – the constant sense of twisting, of multiple views of the figure. The wonderfully animated figures as I free-associated and simultaneously mixed batches of cobalt yellow and ultramarine blues and violets seemed oddly contemporary, a sort of twisty Versace theatricality. The young boy, the voluptuous curves of the soldiers back with the plumed helmet are quoted from Scipio Africanus Freeing Massiva, a painting I studied at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.



Opera Prima 1999 Oil on Canvas 60 x 48 inches

The detail of the staircase fresco of the Wurzburg Residenz, with the personification of Africa provided my main focus for Opera Prima. But, aside from the subject matter I was searching for elements that would start to dissolve into a dream-like sequence, combining specificity with indeterminate passages. The composition is triangular with the female figure at the apex and the vases, folds and fronds cascading from the center.


The Message 1999 Oil on Canvas 48 x 60 inches

Quoted from “Ascent of Mount Cavalry

John Rupert Martin: Baroque, P. 73: “What chiefly distinguishes the Baroque attitude from that of the Renaissance is the urge to expand the range of sensual experience and to deepen and intensify the interpretation of feelings.”

In the late 1990s’ I was continually arranging historical and contemporary images, cutting into them and juxtaposing them, looking for underlying connections among them. In ‘The Message’ the connective tissue is in the patterning of the cloth and the twisting of the forms.

The shining silver horse where we see his rump, face and mane inspired the decorative almost puzzle-like assemblage, complementing the cobalt turquoise Versace elements with the highly keyed mustard, vermilion and yellow-gold garments and embroidered cloth of Tiepolo’s scene.

Scorpio’s Tale 2000 Oil on Canvas 60 x 48 inches

Scorpio’s Tale quotes a detail from Tiepolo’s The Investiture of Bishop Harold as Duke of Franconia,  a fresco on the north wall of the Kaisersaal. The Braque element on the left in the painting echoes the painted stucco on the right, just as the stripes of the contemporary gown dialog with Tiepolo’s Arabian figure. Operatic and processional with a monumental aspect to the figures, Scorpio’s Tale was a luxuriant painting for me, a tactile, sensuous painting experience.









Leave a Reply