The Triumph of Hercules
oil on canvas
36 1/2 in. x 27 1/2 in. (92.71 cm x 69.85 cm)
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
This rectangular canvas features a painted oval inhabited by figures set against a blue sky with clouds; the oval is surrounded by a yellow-brown border. In the lower half of the canvas, a muscular man in a horse-drawn chariot rides toward a classical building. Above him, a winged figure hovers with two trumpets, while below two women rest on a cloud supported by a winged putto. Other members of the scene include a half-man, half-horse figure, or centaur, and a soldier wearing a helmet. Figures populate every side of the oval, some extending over the edge. The centaur rests his hoof just slightly over the rim, tricking the viewer’s eye into seeing the brown border as a flat surface on the picture plane and the painted sky as deep space beyond. Loose brushstrokes are visible, giving the work a lively, sketch-like appearance.
Context and Analysis
This painting by Giambattista Tiepolo, a Venetian artist of the 1700s, is a preparatory oil sketch, or modello, for a ceiling fresco. In this mythological work, the man in the chariot is Herakles, or Hercules, the son of Zeus celebrated for his strength and bravery. As the son of a god, Herakles did not die as a mortal but instead rose to Mount Olympus, the home of the ancient Greek gods. This is the moment Tiepolo chose to depict. Allegorical figures, such as Fame, the winged figure holding the trumpet, accompany the hero, while characters from his past—including the soldier, identified as Castor, and the centaur Nessus—sit below.
Preparatory sketches like this one held an important place in Tiepolo’s working process. When designing a ceiling fresco, a form for which he was well known, he used the small-scale modello to work out his composition and present it to his patron for approval before beginning a massive decorative scheme. He created this picture around 1761 for Carlo di Canossa, who sought a ceiling painting for his family palace in Verona in celebration of his daughter’s marriage. Unfortunately, the building was damaged during World War II, which makes this modello all the more important for understanding Tiepolo’s plans for the project. Yet his modelli are also works of art in their own right. Art lovers in his day appreciated their sketch-like form, which they saw as embodying Tiepolo’s original idea as well as his creative energy. Later artists often collected these oil sketches, including the sculptor Antonio Canova (1757–1822).
Links exist between Tiepolo’s work and Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #1255: Whirls and Twirls (Currier
), the mural in the Currier’s winter garden (Currier, 2006.24
). To create this mural, LeWitt produced highly detailed plans that were then carried out by assistants and local artists on site at the Currier. These plans are illustrated on the wall label of the finished mural. Like Tiepolo, LeWitt found that a small-scale sketch, with careful notes regarding shape and color, was a key preparatory step toward the creation of the wall-sized pair of site-specific murals.
Written by Elizabeth A. Nogrady
Brown, Beverly Louise. Giambattista Tiepolo: Master of the Oil Sketch
. Exh. cat. Milan: Electa; New York: Abbeville; Fort Worth: Kimbell Art Museum, 1993.
Christiansen, Keith, ed. Giambattista Tiepolo, 1696–1770
. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996.
“The Triumph of Hercules: A Modello by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.” Currier Gallery of Art Bulletin
, March 1960.
1927 Wertheim Gallery, Berlin, Germany, "Italian Painting of the 17th and 18th Century."
1972 Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, "Painting, Sculpture and Decorative Arts from the Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire." May 14 - June 20.
1978 "Painters to Princes and Prelates." Organized by the Birmingham Museum of Art. Traveled to :Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL, Jan. 8 - Feb. 19; Museum of Fine Arts, Springfied, MA, Mar. 19 - May 7.
1979 Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, "Small Gallery on a Large Scale." June 16 - July 29.
1986 Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME, "Masterpieces from the Currier Gallery of Art." Sept. 11 - Nov. 2.
1993 Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, TX, "Giambattista Tiepolo: Master of the Oil Sketch." Sept. 18 - Dec. 12.
1996 High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA, "Rings: Five Passions in World Art." July 4 - Sept. 29.
Baron von Stumm,
Van Diemen Gallery, Berlin
Jacob Goldschmidt, until 1937
Internationale Antiquiteitenhandel, Amsterdam, 1937
Baroness Renée de Becker-Rothschild, 1937-1955
Rosenberg & Stiebel Gallery, New York, NY, 1955
Purchased by Currier Gallery of Art, 1959