Getty Museum Acquires Important Painting By Italian Master Tiepolo
Two Important Drawings Also Acquired Last Week
February 1, 2000
LOS ANGELES-The J. Paul Getty Museum announced today that it has acquired the painting, Alexander the Great and Campaspe in the Studio of Apelles, about 1740 by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770). The painting was bought at auction at Christie’s in New York on January 27. Deborah Gribbon, deputy director and chief curator of the J. Paul Getty Museum, said, "The Museum has hoped for many years to acquire a painting of this type by Tiepolo. It is an exceptional example of his "cabinet paintings," small canvases commissioned by discerning--and wealthy--collectors. It is of the highest quality, and brilliantly painted. Its subject is an engaging love story that in Tiepolo’s hands is nothing less than a celebration of the power and enduring beauty of the art of painting itself."
No comparable work by the master painter Tiepolo has been sold in more than 25 years. For the last 50 years, until a few weeks ago, the painting had been displayed at the Louvre. It had belonged to Gentili di Giuseppe, a prominent Jewish businessman and collector who resided in Paris from the beginning of the 20th century. His family had fled occupied France by the time of his death in 1941, and the auction then of his collection, including this painting, was deemed a "forced sale." The painting was recently returned to his heirs along with four others, and then placed on auction last week.
The subject of the painting is Apelles, the court painter to Alexander the Great. Though none of Apelles’ works survive, his reputation as the greatest painter of antiquity endures through the praise of ancient writers. The most popular anecdote about Apelles is depicted here, as told by historian Pliny the Elder. It is about Alexander’s commission of a nude portrait of his favorite concubine, Campaspe. The story became a paradigm of art’s transformative powers because, as Apelles captures her beauty on canvas, he falls in love with her. A regular visitor to the studio, Alexander sees that Apelles is love-struck and such is his esteem for his painter that he grants Campaspe to Apelles. As Pliny states, he "presented not only his bedmate but his affection also to the artist." From the Renaissance on, painters favored this story because it promoted the nobility of painting and celebrated artistic inspiration.
Telling the story with great economy, Tiepolo concentrates on the charged glance between the boyish Apelles and the regal Campaspe. It is the moment the painter realizes that he is lost to the beauty of his model. His brush poised above the canvas, love comes as a result of the creative process. Campaspe is radiant as she poses with regal hauteur. The tilt of her head is echoed by that of the older maid holding a mirror, symbolic of naked truth, to imply that Campaspe’s beauty will fade, while the image taking shape on the canvas via the eye and hand of the painter would not only be superior, but everlasting.
Like Apelles, Tiepolo was recognized as the greatest painter of his day, not only in his native Venice, but across Europe. His career was meteoric and he maintained a position of preeminence for over 50 years with a prodigious output of paintings in fresco and oil, as well as numerous drawings and prints. He was a brilliant colorist and used rapid, free brushwork with emphatic creativity that caused a contemporary to describe him as "all spirit and fire."
Los Angeles is now home to several works by Tiepolo, representing all modes in which he worked: large-scale decorative schemes (Norton Simon), painted sketches for these schemes (LACMA and the Getty), and now, a finished cabinet painting. The work joins other recent Getty Museum acquisitions of 18th-century paintings such as Fragonard’s The Fountain of Love, acquired in 1999, along with three drawings and a painted sketch by Tiepolo acquired in 1994. According to Scott Schaefer, the Museum’s curator of paintings, the painting will undergo some conservation treatment before it goes on view to the public. The Museum hopes to organize a small exhibition on the painting itself, surrounding it with related drawings and paintings by Tiepolo.
The Getty Museum continues to expand all areas of its collection. Last week the Museum acquired another important 18th-century work of art at auction--a two-sided ink-over-chalk drawing by Canaletto (Antonio Canale) (1697-1768) with spectacular images of Venice’s most famous architecture and scenes of Venetian street life of the period. Also just acquired is a rare drawing by Heinrich Aldegrever (1502-55/61), Lazarus Begging Crumbs from Dives’s Table, which will be featured in the international loan exhibition Painting on Light: Drawings and Stained Glass in the Age of Dürer and Holbein, opening at the Getty July 11.
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