In the eighteenth century Venice was one of the main pleasure grounds of Europe. The city was a magnificent spectacle in itself, and its attractions for the visitor were increased by its constant pageantry, its frequent carnivals, and its easy and sophisticated pleasures. The Republic, though its overseas possessions had been lost one by one and its trade had declined disastrously, still preserved the proud independence and the repressive, oligarchic government of its prosperous years. It is easy after the event to see how isolated Venice had become, and bow little power remained to the state. A show of force by Napoleon in 1797 was sufficient to destroy its independence once and for all. But to the unforeseeing eye the eighteenth century appearance of Venice was prosperous, gay, civilized and enchanting.
Certainly no premonitions of decay were to be found in the state of the arts, for the last hundred years of the Republic were enriched by a remarkable revival of Venetian painting. The first great epoch of painting in Venice, headed in the sixteenth century by Giorgione, Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto had been followed by a century of stagnation. Then, a final floraison was seen in the eighteenth century, embodied in the paintings of the Riccis, Piazzetta, Pittoni, Carlevaris, Pellegrini, Canaletto, the Guardis, Longhis and many others. This remarkable group of artists was one of the most specific attractions of Venice for foreigners at the time, and many of them received and accepted profitable invitations to work abroad. Some, such as Canaletto and Francesco Guardi, specialized in view painting and the Venetian scene; others, such as Sebastiano Ricci, Pellegrini, Amigoni undertook vast decorative schemes. Of these painters the most gifted by far in imagination, facility and spirit, was Giovanni Battista (Giambattista) Tiepolo.
Tiepolo was born in the city of Venice in 1696. Orphaned within a year of his birth, he was early apprenticed to a then prominent painter, Gregorio Lazzarini, and learned from him how to compose paintings with numerous figures. His precociously early works, painted before he was 21, are essays in the style of Piazzetta. His own individual lightness and felicity of style first emerged in his decorations for the walls and ceilings of private palaces, in such frescoes as those of the Palazzo Sandi in Venice. At this time he caught the spirit of Veronese, transmitted through Sebastiano Ricci, and his work from then on is full of graceful allusion to this great and worldly master of 16th century pageantry, but never becomes derivative or a mere pastiche.
Little is recorded of the personal details of the artist's life. He married a sister of the painter Francesco Guardi in 1719; Domenico, the third of his nine children was born in 1727, and was to become his chief assistant and most individual pupil. Giambattista Tiepolo did not have to struggle for recognition and success, and all he undertook gives the impression of effortless creativity. His ability was immediately recognised . . .