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The Triumph of Valor over Time

Photo: Nathaniel Willson

The Triumph of Valor over Time

ca. 1757

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

Italian, 1696 - 1770

Enduring famethe goal of so many figures in historywas the promise of art. This fresco was originally painted on the ceiling of the Porto family palace, in the town of Vicenza, Italy, to celebrate the bravery of the Porto family, which was noted for generations of military accomplishments. Orazio Porto commissioned Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, the greatest Venetian artist of the eighteenth century, to design and execute the painting. The artist first made a fluid oil sketch to show to his patron before he commenced work on the ceiling. Tiepolo's design is an allegory in which Victory crowns the golden-robed figure of Valor with a laurel wreath, as Time watches helplessly from the shadows below, his scythe overturned.
Fresco transferred to canvas
200 x 90in. (508 x 228.6cm)
Frame: 129 15/16 x 211 15/16in. (330.1 x 538.3cm)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
61.170
Provenance: Originally commissioned by the Porto Family for the Palazzo Porto, Vicenza, 1757 until removed from palazzo ca. 1900; purchased by Dr. Eduard Simon (1864-1929), Berlin, 1910-1929; [Eduard Simon collection sale, Paul Cassirer’s, Berlin, October 10-11, 1929, no. 12 of catalogue by M.J. Friedlander, as Giovanni Battista Tiepolo)]; [A.S. Drey, Munich]; [Paul Drey, New York]; [French and Co., New York]; purchased by Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York, November 23, 1951; Seattle Art Museum, since 1952, accessioned 1961
Photo: Nathaniel Willson
location
Now on view at the Seattle Art Museum

Symbolism of the Painting

Photo: Eduardo Calderón
Detail of Valor, 61.170
For many years, the painting was described as the apotheosis, or elevation to the rank of a god, of a member of the Porto family, thought to be the elderly man in gold. But a recent interpretation is more plausible. The gold robe and accompanying lion fit the prevailing imagery for Valor, described in Cesare Ripa's Iconologia (1611) as an "aged, virile man wearing gold, in whose hand is a laurel wreath and a scepter; his left hand caresses a lion" (Beverly Louise Brown, Giambattista Tiepolo: Master of the Oil Sketch. Milan, New York, and Fort Worth: Electa/Abbeville and Kimbell Art Museum, 1993, 279-80).
Photo: Eduardo Calderón
Detail of Victory, 61.170
The only detail that is missing from this description is the laurel wreath, which here is held by the uppermost figure of Victory, as she symbolically crowns Valor.
Photo: Eduardo Calderón
Detail of Time, 61.170
At the lower left, in the shadows, the frustrated winged figure of Time is vanquished, his scythe turned upside-down. In the final fresco, a putto at the right playfully swings a watch, signaling that time's destructive powers are useless here.
Photo: Eduardo Calderón
Detail of Ignorance, 61.170
The grimacing figure at the bottom edge, shown with ivy and bats flitting nearby, is Ignorance.

Transcending Time

Tiepolo's ceiling was commissioned to complete the decoration of the first floor of the Porto family villa in Vicenza, and specifically to glorify the family's military prowess. Rather than commemorate particular historical events, Tiepolo painted an allegory whose message is that fame, earned through earthly accomplishments, transcends time -- the survival of the fresco for almost 250 years attests to that message.
Palazzo Iseppo Porto, Venice, 2007
Photo: Marcok, licensed under Creative Commons

Other Decoration in the Palace

The ceiling fresco joined works that date from the construction of the palace by Andrea Palladio (1508-1550) between 1548 and 1552.

Family portraits of the first residents of the Porto palace were painted by Paolo Veronese, one of the leading Venetian painters of the time. While this portrait of Livia has been trimmed at the sides, the original conception shows the figures occupying fictive architectural niches so that they would look like sculptures come to life. Veronese helped establish this playful illusionism as part of the decorative artist's task.

At the same time that Tiepolo was commissioned to paint the ceiling fresco, his son and assistant Giandomenico was charged with making six frescoes for wall niches, commemorating events in the history of the Porto family. The program of wall frescoes and ceiling painting together would thus mark specific family accomplishments over the centuries and confer a lasting celestial reward for those achievements.
Portrait of Countess Livia da Porto Thiene and her Daughter Porzia, ca. 1551, Paolo Veronese
The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Acquired by Henry Walters, 1921, 37.541

Resources

Exhibition HistorySeattle, Wash., Seattle Art Museum, Italian Art: Samuel H. Kress Collection, 1952. Text by Suida, William and Sherman Lee. Cat. No. 22, pp. 8, 21.

Seattle, Wash., Seattle Art Museum, 2500 Years of Italian Art, Nov. 10- Dec. 8 1958. Cat. Fig. 57.

Fort Worth, Tex., Kimball Art Museum, Giambattista Tiepolo: Master of the Oil Sketch, Sept. 18-Dec. 12, 1993. Fig. 44, p. 278-80.

Published ReferencesFriedlander, M.J. Die Saamlung Dr. Eduard Simon, Berlin. Berlin, Germany: P. Cassirer, H. Helbing, 1929; p. 40 reproduced plts. 12, 13, 14.

Suida, William and Richard Fuller. Seattle Art Museum. European Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. Seattle, Wash.: Seattle Art Museum 1954; Cat. p. 78, reproduced p. 79.

"Recent Important Acquisitions of American Collections." The Art Quarterly 18, no. 1 (Spring 1955): p. 97, reproduced p. 96.

"Accessions of American and Canadian Museums, October - December 1961,” The Art Quarterly 25, no. 1 (Spring 1962): p. 84, reproduced p. 87 ill.

Morassi, A. A Complete Catalogue of Paintings of G.B. Tiepolo. London, England: Phaidon Press, 1962; pp. 32, 40, 48. Fig. 331.

Garberi, Mercedes Precerutti. Frescoes From Venetian Villas. London, England: Phaidon, 1971; pp. 127, 228.

Knox, George. “Tiepolo Paintings at Birmingham Ala.” Burlington Magazine 120, no. 900 (March 1978): p. 189.

Knox, George. Giambattista and Domenico Tiepolo: A Study and “Catalogue Raissoné” of the Chalk Drawings. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1980; p. 323, pl. 316.

Ishikawa, Chiyo. The Samuel H. Kress Collection at the Seattle Art Museum. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1997; fig. 38, pp. 59-62.

Ishikawa, Chiyo. "Seattle Art Museum." In Italian Treasures in the U.S.: An Itinerary of Art. Edited by Renato Miracco. Rome, Italy: Gangemi Editore International Publishing, 2015; reproduced p. 201.

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