- Museum number
Phaeton asking Apollo for the Chariot of the Sun
Pen and brown ink with brown and grey wash, over black chalk, on grey paper
- Production date
Height: 386 millimetres
Width: 521 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- This was published by Campbell Dodgson in 1917 as a study for G.B. Tiepolo's early ceiling fresco of 'Apollo and Phaeton' in the Palazzo Archinto, Milan, destroyed in 1942, illustrated M. Levey, 'Giambattista Tiepolo, his life and art', New Haven and London, 1986, fig. 62.. The main ceiling fresco of Triumph of the Arts and Science dated 1731 was painted for the library, with four smaller ceilings executed for surrounding rooms: 'Perseus and Andromeda', 'Juno presiding over Fortune and Venus', 'Nobility' and 'Apollo and Phaeton'. The decorations were painted for Carlo Archinto, prompted by the marriage of his son, Filippo in April 1731. By that date the decorations were not quite completed. The commission was Tiepolo's first major ceiling project outside the Veneto, and thus marks the beginning of the Venetian painter's ascent to international recognition.
The connection between the present work and the Archinto painting is not straightforward as the drawing is rectangular while the fresco is an upright oval. The two compositions are very close in terms of the figures and their groupings, except for Time with his scythe who is shown front-on in the drawing and from the rear in the drawing. A similar change of format, albeit to an upright horizontal, is also found in two oil sketches of the same subject in the Bowes Museum, Barnard Museum and in the Akademie, Vienna, Levey 1986, figs. 63-64. Various explanation have been put forward as to why these works differ from the fresco. According to George Knox the present 'peculiarly weak' drawing was a rejected idea for the horizontal ceiling fresco in the Venetian Palazzo Sandi, the 'Allegory of Eloquence' executed around 1725, which was recycled for the Archinto commission. The two oil sketches were in Knox's opinion prepared for the same abortive scheme. Beverly Brown in her 1993 catalogue argued that Tiepolo had originally thought to paint the Phaeton subject as a wall decoration and that the Vienna oil sketch predated the BM drawing in the genesis of the work. She proposed that Tiepolo may have intended to cover over the pen and ink with oil paint, akin to the Frick oil on paper sketch of 'Perseus and Andromeda' (Levey fig. 61) which is preparatory for another of the Archinto frescoes. Brown rejected the Bowes Museum work as a later pastiche. The latter work was rehabilitated by Keith Christiansen in his 1996 exhibition: in his view both oil sketches on stylistic grounds were made a few years after the Archinto fresco c. 1733-1736 with the purpose of reworking the theme to create an independent work. The BM drawing and an oil sketch in the Los Angeles County Museum (judged by Beverly Brown to be after the ceiling painting rather than a modello for it) are in Christiansen's view preparatory for the Archinto fresco.
The argument for regarding the two oil sketches as postdating the Milan commission is compelling, and it seems plausible that the same is true of the present drawing as well. The design of the Archinto fresco has been subtly adjusted to make it fit a horizontal format with the group of cloud-borne gods and goddesses moved slightly to the right with trees added on either side of them to block the space. The drawing is perhaps the earliest of the reworkings as it is most faithful to the original, most notably in the group of the imploring Phaeton before Apollo in the centre (the most abraded part of the paper due to the central fold). In the drawing the change to the orientation of the chariot horses to make their attachment to the chariot more obvious was one that was adopted in the Vienna oil, as was the bringing nearer of Time so that he hovers ominously above the doomed figure of Phaeton. The slightly lacklustre quality of the BM - not helped by its less than perfect condition - may also perhaps be due to Tiepolo reconfiguring an existing composition, the lack of changes to the contours certainly suggestive of a design that he had worked out in advance.
Lit.: C. Dodgson, 'The Three Versions of Tiepolo's Phaeton', 'The Burlington Magazine', XXXI, 1917, p.228, pl. 1; G. Knox, 'Catalogue of Tiepolo Drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum', London, 1960, pp.12 and 43, , under no.1; B.L. Brown, in exhib. cat., Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, 'Giambattista Tiepolo: master of the oil sketch', 1993, pp. 163-165, fig. 69; K. Christiansen, in exhib. cat., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 'Giambattista Tiepolo', 1996, under no. 47a-b; S. Loire and J. de Los Llanos, in exhib. cat., Paris, Musée du Petit Palais, 'Giambattista Tiepolo: 1696-1770', 1998, under no.20, p. 112, fig. 59; J.L. Seydl, in exhib. cat., Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum, 'Giambattista Tiepolo: fifteen oil sketches', 2005, under no. 4, p. 38, fig. 4.7
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2006 Feb-May, London, Courtauld Galleries, 'All Spirits and Fire:...'
2019 16 Apr-14 Jul, USA, New York, The Frick Collection, 'Tiepolo in Milan: The Lost Frescoes of Palazzo Archinto'
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number