Tiepolo in Udine

Birgit Stegbauer

The frescoes for the staircase of the Residence in Würzburg are probably what Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770) is most known for. However it is less well known that the Venice born painter had his artistic breakthrough in Udine.  There are several locations within the city, where works from his three stays in Udine can be admired. The Tiepolo galleries in the Patriarchal palace in particular are a revelation.

Tiepolo was one of the most renowned painters of the late Baroque and Rococo periods; he was favoured by illustrious and influential commissioners in the whole of Northern Italy, Germany and Spain. Born 1696 in Venice, he was first instructed by his uncle. He was then trained until 1717 in the workshop of Gregorio Lazzarini, before opening his own Venice studio at the age of 21.

In the Castle Museums (i Musei del Castello), the Galleria d’Arte Antica houses valuable works of art from the 1300s to the 1800s, including paintings by Carpaccio, Caravaggio and Tiepolo. It is only a 5 to 10 minutes walk from the castle to the city's cathedral. This church building from the 13th/14th centuries has a very simple exterior; the interior, however, was adapted during the early 18th century to fit the fashion of the time. The choirs and the transept have been completely converted into the Baroque style, the gothic pillars of the nave and the side aisles have been wrapped and finally the side chapels too were redecorated.

In the course of these adaptations to the Baroque style in 1726, the now 30-year-old Tiepolo was commissioned to decorate the 4th side chapel of the right aisle. Here you will find a typical example of how Tiepolo's frescoes melt together with the architectural framework to form a coherent unit. The altarpiece for this chapel illustrates the radiant Christ rising from the dead. Two more Tiepolo altarpieces can be seen in the first and second side chapel of the right aisle ('Trinity' and 'Saint Hermagoras and Fortunatos').

South of the cathedral you'll find another Tiepolo location, the Oratorio della Purità, a smaller prayer house. In 1759, during his third stay in Udine, Tiepolo - by then at the height of his popularity - created three frescoes for the ceiling. The central fresco illustrates the Assumption of Mary where the Virgin seems to spirit away to heavenly spheres. While Giovani Battista Tiepolo painted the frescoes for the ceiling, his son Giandomenico was decorating the walls of the Oratorio with eight grisailles painted on a gold ground. They two of them regularly worked together.

Tiepolo's main promoter and commissioner in Udine was Dionisio Delfino, the patriarch of Aquileia - yes, the patriarchs of Aquileia had already resided out of town for quite a time. It is in his palace (which today houses the archbishop of Udine and the Diocesan Museum) that Tiepolo decorated a sequence of rooms with frescoes between 1726 and 1729. The so-called 'Tiepolo galleries' comprise the 3-floor-high monumental staircase, the palatine chapel, the guests' gallery and the yellow room.

The most atmospheric room creation within the Tiepolo galleries is the long, narrow guests' gallery, designed to welcome guests before the audience, which took place in the adjacent throne room. Here Tiepolo's polychrome and monochrome wall- and ceiling frescoes merge together with trompe-l'oeil-paintings by Gerolamo Mengozzi, also known as il Colonna. This most delightful complete work of art so  enchanted me that I could hardly leave the gallery: it is here that Tiepolo's triumphal rise to stardom began.

I Musei del Castello, Piazzale del Castello 1. For further information in English, click here. All opening hours are detailed here.

Museo Diocesano e Gallerie del Tiepolo, Piazza del Patriarchato 1, Udine - information in English here.



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