Giandomenico Tiepolo (pupil of)

(Venice 1727 - 1804 Venice)

Portrait of an Elderly Oriental Gentleman with a Blue Turban and Fur-Lined Mantle, c. 1770

oil on canvas, 60 x 46 cm (23.62 x 18.11 inches)

  • Reference: 839
  • Provenance: Giovanni Testori collection

An elderly oriental gentleman is portrayed in a three-quarter pose as he stares out at the observer with a fixed and penetrating gaze. The sitter’s likely Turkish origin may be surmised from his sumptuous headgear, a blue turban held at the forehead by a red gem mounted in gold. Equally remarkable is his attire, consiting of a satin mantle with fur lapels, the edges of which are joined over his chest by a gold knot with a large, dark pearl in the centre. The elegance of the sitter’s bearing and of his attire, of course, allow us to identify him as a wealthy merchant or dignitary of the Ottoman Empire conducting a mission to Venice at a moment in history in which political relations between the Most Serene Republic and the Sublime Porte were relatively stable – also in the name of their shared commercial interests – after centuries of conflict.

The painting is a replica – though its dimensions are very close to those of the original – of a famous picture by Giambattista Tiepolo formerly in the Rusconi Collection in Trieste and now in the Museo del Settecento Veneziano in Ca’ Rezzonico (inv. n. 2183, A. Pallucchini, in L’opera completa di Giambattista Tiepolo, Milan 1968, p. 121, n. 223). This work, part of a series which originally included portraits of other similar sitters, was expertly engraved by Giambattista’s eldest son Giandomenico Tiepolo, who is also responsible for an initial replica on canvas (it, too, now in the museum in Ca’ Rezzonico, inv. 1673). Further replicas (see G. Knox, in Domenico Tiepolo. Raccolta di teste 1770 – 1970, Milan 1970, Head I, 17) were produced in Giambattista’s workshop in Madrid in the last decade of his life, a period in which his youngest son, Lorenzo, proved his worth as his father’s assistant. And indeed it is Lorenzo – an artist much appreciated at the royal court of Spain also for his work as a portrait artist in his own right – whom we have to thank for a splendid interpretation of his father’s model, a pastel on paper transferred onto canvas, known to have been in Luigi Grassi’s collection in Florence in the early 20th century and now in a private collection (see Sotheby’s, Old Master Drawings, London, 8/7/2009, no. 69). 

It is precisely the affinity of the painting under discussion here with other versions, painted on canvas by Lorenzo, of models devised by Giambattista and engraved by Giandomenico – for example, the Portrait of an Oriental Gentleman with a Book of which two versions are known, one in Ca’ Rezzonico and the other in the Museum für Franken in Würzburg; or the Portrait of an Oriental Man which surfaced in an auction at Christie’s (Christie’s, Early English and continental furniture, sculpture, works of art, old master paintings and drawings, New York, 10/1/1991, no. 90) – that prompts us to attribute this picture, too, to one of Giandomenico’s pupils, perhaps the youngest member of the Tiepolo clan, given the unashamed ease with which colour is handled and its astonishingly lifelike treatment of light, primarily a feature of the work that Lorenzo produced in his time in Madrid. That is why we prefer to date the above works, and thus also this painting, not to the early years of Lorenzo’s career as Filippo Pedrocco suggests (F. Pedrocco, in Lorenzo Tiepolo e il suo tempo, ed. G. D. Romanelli and in the exhibition catalogue, Venezia-Mestre, Villa Ceresa, 26 October 1997 – 31 January 1998, Milan 1997, pp. 72-77) but to the peak of his career, thus the years around 1770.

The painting was part of the rich collection put together by writer and essayist Giovanni Testori (1923–93), after whose death it came into the hands of its current owner.


More information