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Light and Water: Drawing in Eighteenth-Century Venice At the Getty Center, May 17 - August 21, 2005

March 18, 2005

LOS ANGELES—The grand tradition of Venetian art came to a glorious apex during the 18th century, when the magical beauty of the floating city inspired the greatest artists of the day to capture its charm and character. Light and Water: Drawing in Eighteenth-Century Venice, at the Getty Center, May 17–August 21, 2005, presents vibrant sketches that reveal the depth and variety of artistic invention in Venice during one of its greatest periods in art.

Featuring a number of new acquisitions, this exhibition follows a five-year campaign to build up the Getty’s holdings of 18th-century Venetian artists. It also includes drawings from Los Angeles County Museum of Art and an anonymous private collection. Among the artists represented are Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, Antonio Canal, called Canaletto, and Francesco Guardi. Each of them produced drawings, many in water-based washes, capturing the extraordinary light of Venice—a light produced by endless reflection and counter-reflection from the water.

The range of works on view includes real and imaginary views as well as caricatures, portraits, and dramatic biblical and mythological subjects. Local artists produced many of these drawings for collectors and as souvenirs for the numerous visitors that Venice attracted. Light and Water is complemented by the Getty exhibition For Your Approval: Oil Sketches by Tiepolo, on view from May 3 to September 4, 2005.

Venetian artists, including Canaletto and Guardi, became internationally famous for their vedute (architectural views) of well-known buildings and sights such as the famous Piazza San Marco and the Campo San Polo. Other drawings and paintings produced as mementoes take the form of capricci (architectural fantasies). These shimmering sketches possess a dream-like quality in their fusion of imaginary elements.

Venetian artists were also extraordinary creators of graphic narratives, making large, highly finished drawings of biblical and historical subjects as independent works of art. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, his son Domenico, and Francesco Fontebasso each created dramatic drawings with a wealth of detail and with theatrical arrangements of figures, reflecting the Venetian love of performance. At times, the artists also inserted visual references to their city. In Flight into Egypt, instead of depicting the Holy Family escaping on a donkey, the elder Tiepolo reinterprets the scene featuring a typically Venetian boat.

Light and Water also explores the Venetian love of caricature, which has its roots in the annual carnevale (carnival). Held before Lent, the extravagant festival features participants dressed up in extraordinary and ridiculous costumes for comical and satirical effect. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo was particularly adept at caricature, and his drawings provide a contrast to the work of Pietro Longhi, who was known for his domestic scenes providing a vivid record of daily Venetian life. These character studies are supplemented in the exhibition with a variety of sketches of the human head and face, revealing the beauty, range, and function of Venetian drawing. While some sheets are apparently life-like portraits, others are imaginary or idealized renditions of the face, or teste di fantasia (fantasy heads). Giovanni Battista Piazzetta introduced to Venice a new type of drawing—the highly finished portrait in black chalk—while Rosalba Carriera brought the city pastel portraits and ideal heads made with an extraordinary sensitivity. Both types of work were highly prized by collectors and visitors to the city.

Of the figures represented in Venetian art, one of the most popular is Punchinello, a hunchback with a beaklike mask who embodies the best and worst human characteristics, including elements of bravery, humor, laziness, bawdiness, and pride. Punchinello was among a range of characters featured by the 18th-century traveling commedia dell’arte troupes, which performed spontaneous, improvised comedy sketches in the squares of Venice. From Punchinello is derived the modern-day figure of Punch in Punch and Judy puppet shows. Artists such as Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and his son Domenico lampooned various Punchinello figures in their works, returning to the theme on a regular basis.

As the reputations of Venetian artists grew, many spent sojourns abroad, often working for the grandest patrons. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo worked in Germany from 1750–53, and for King Charles III in Spain from 1762–70. When Canaletto moved to England in 1746, he went armed with introductions to English patrons. Fontebasso worked in Russia for a year in 1761, Diziani in Germany from 1717–20, and Sebastiano and Marco Ricci in England and France. These periods of work abroad helped to spread the light, decorative, colorful Venetian style of painting and drawing across Europe, and consolidate these artists’ reputations as some of the most talented, imaginative, and versatile figures of the age.

For Your Approval: Oil Sketches by Tiepolo
May 3–September 4, 2005
For Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Italian, 1696–1770), oil sketches played an important intermediary role in developing the composition, palette, and use of light in his full-scale works. One of the most brilliant painters of the 18th century, Tiepolo is best known for his astonishing technical facility and invention in his fresco paintings, his work on altarpieces, and his famous schemes for palaces across Europe. This exhibition centers on ten remarkable oil sketches and an altarpiece fragment, on loan from The Courtauld Institute of Art, London. Also included are oil sketches from the Getty Museum’s collection and from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This exhibition, which features an illustrated catalogue, appears only at the Getty Museum as part of an ongoing rotation of loans from the Courtauld.

All events are free and are held in the Harold M. Williams Auditorium, unless otherwise noted. Seating reservations are required. For reservations and information, please call (310) 440-7300 or visit Tickets are available on-site or by phone.

Thursdays, June 9, 1:30 p.m. and July 21, 2:30 p.m., Museum galleries
Julian Brooks, assistant curator of drawings, the J. Paul Getty Museum, leads a gallery talk on the exhibition. Meet under the stairs in the Museum Entrance Hall.

Tuesday–Sunday, May 17–22, 1:30 p.m.
A special one-hour overview of the exhibition. Meet under the stairs in the Museum Entrance Hall.

Sunday, June 12, 10:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m., Museum Courtyard
Enter the world of the Venetian carnevale and explore its folklore and art. Discover the classic characters of commedia dell'arte, listen to Musicántica's Italian folk music or arias sung by members of the Los Angeles Opera, and make your own Venetian mask. Complements the exhibitions Light and Water: Drawing in Eighteenth-Century Venice and For Your Approval: Oil Sketches by Tiepolo.

Giambattista Tiepolo’s Creative Imagination
Sunday, June 26, 4:00 p.m.
Catherine Whistler, senior assistant keeper for the collections of Italian and Spanish paintings and drawings at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, discusses one of the most important and celebrated artists of the 18th century, Giambattista Tiepolo (1696–1770), who was admired for his expressive powers and imaginative flights. Complements the exhibitions Light and Water and For Your Approval: Oil Sketches by Tiepolo.

Gordon Getty Concert: Quartetto di Venezia
Saturday, June 18, 8:00 p.m.
Founded more than a decade ago, when its members were students at the Venice Conservatory, the Quartetto di Venezia delights audiences with its distinctively Italian playing style and sparkling repertoire. Known for their exquisite quality of sound and a unique voice that emphasizes the characteristics of individual instruments, they are revitalizing the extraordinary Italian tradition of string quartet playing. Tickets $20; students/seniors $15.

Publications are available in the Getty Bookstore, by calling (800) 223-3431 or (310) 440-7059, or online at

Seeing Venice: Bellotto’s Grand Canal
Essay by Mark Doty
This book presents Bellotto’s View of the Grand Canal in a series of beautiful details that allows the reader to closely examine the painting and enjoy the colorful, busy goings-on of 18th-century Venetian life.
Hardcover: $14.95

Looking at Prints, Drawings, and Watercolors: A Guide to Technical Terms
By Paul Goldman
This volume presents an array of works from Raphael and Vincent van Gogh to Albrecht Dürer and Henry Moore, explaining the techniques, processes, and materials used in works of art on paper.
Paperback: $14.95

MEDIA CONTACT:                 Miranda Carroll
                                            Getty Communications Dept.

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