Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770) was the sparkling star of eighteenth-century decorative painting in Italy. He was a virtuoso master of the fresco medium, sought after not only in Italy but also in Germany and Spain. As a colourist, Tiepolo is unsurpassed, progressing from the rather dark tonality of his early works to his characteristically sunny palette from the early 1730s.

Tiepolo was born in Venice, Italy. At 19 years of age, Tiepolo completed his first major commission, the Sacrifice of Isaac. By 1750, his reputation was firmly established throughout Europe and in 1753, he was richly in demand locally and abroad, where he was elected President of the Academy of Padua.

In 1761, Charles III commissioned from the painter a large ceiling fresco to decorate the throne room of the royal palace of Madrid where he died on March 27, 1770.

This picture -Allegory of Venus entrusting Eros to Chronos (292 x 190 cm.) painted in 1754-58- has a terrific history. At the turn of the XXth century, the House of Henri L. Bischoffsheim in Audley Street in Mayfair London was redecorated but nobody paid sufficient attention to the ceiling of a drawing-room that displayed this fantastic painting by Tiepolo. At the death of Mr. Bischoffsheim's widow in 1922, once more nobody paid attention to this ceiling and the House was acquired by the Egyptian embassy that totally overlooked the fantastic asset they had upon their head.

In 1962 an Italian expert, Pr. Antonio Morassi, published a catalogue of Tiepolo's paintings that mentioned this picture in Mayfair House and referred to an article of 1876 in which the author described the painting as a forming part of the ceiling of "one of the grandest houses in Mayfair, London, present whereabouts unknown."

This was not lost for everybody. In 1964, one director of Christie's was browsing through this book and checked who was now living in this house. When he saw that it was the United Arab Republic embassy he picked up his phone and asked for a visit from the Cultural Attaché. It was granted and here he found the Tiepolo on the ceiling. Five years later, the Ambassador decided that the picture represented a great fire risk and that it was not relevant to the UAR collections. So the Egyptian governement of Gamal Abdel Nasser decided to sell and to use the proceeds for the conservation of the temples in the Nile valley.

It was not easy to remove the Tiepolo from its place as the frame was screwed to the ceiling. When it finally came up for sale, it was bought by the National Gallery in London for 390,000 Guineas ($ 982,000). In the meantime a copy of the master was made by a local artist John Lewis for £ 350 which now proudly fills the emptiness left by the master's picture.


Anonymous said...

John Lewis was my uncle. I remember him making the copy in his back garden in Loughton - as it was too big to work on in his house! Sadly, he died about 12 years ago. His daughter, Fiona, lives in Bath.

Achtung Nada said...

thank you for your comment, do you have a picture of your uncle ?