Artibus et Historiae no. 81 (XLI)

2020, ISSN 0391-9064

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DAMIAN DOMBROWSKI - The Realm of Women: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, a Vassal of the Feminine (pp. 329–368)

In the works of G. B. Tiepolo, the female gender is of paramount importance. Where women are the protagonists, they appear with a sovereignty that is unique for Settecento painting. Since this phenomenon has never been analyzed systematically, this study is a primer in defining Tiepolo’s ‘Realm of Women’. Rather than being a contribution to gender studies, it is an enquiry into an essential aspect of the painter’s œuvre from a phenomenological point of view.

Tiepolo’s women are rulers by nature – not so much for office, rank, or insignias, but on grounds of their nonchalant authority which lends them an air of detachment and condescension. Only men are caught by sentimentalism; their roles are limited to rapturous, albeit trivial, admiration. Before women, they sink into shadows, they are characterized as foolish, feeble, or even frightened. For the sake of degrading maleness, passages of Tasso are visually reworked to the point of reversing their meaning. The peculiar reverie of Tiepolo’s women (even in key moments of history, or at the climax of sacred happenings) is frequently increased up to a veritable lack of interest for their male counterparts.

Tiepolo’s gaze at the female body – a standardized body, of little naturalness – is a gaze without desire. Nude figures remain unapproachable, for the viewer in front of the picture just as for the male protagonists within the picture. The ubiquitous ostentation of the female bosom, most often without any narrative necessity, is not an erotic signal but an emblem of feminine power.

The women painted by Tiepolo are symbols of a higher, autonomous, more beautiful form of existence. In order to make us believe in the ‘verisimilitude’ of this otherness, he inverts the established hierarchy of the sexes. The realm of art, for which he is striving throughout his œuvre, had to be a realm of women.

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