Chicago art note: I like Giovanni Battista Tiepolo for pretty much the same reason that I like Gainsborough or John Singer Sargent: they may not be the greatest of painters, but each defines a particular period and class—so well, indeed, that we may forget that although not the greatest of painters, they are actually pretty good. Tiepolo, for example: nobody can make things fly like Tiepolo; everyone else’s flying creatures look like refrigerator magnets, or balloons in the Macy’s parade. And Tiepolo treats women with sensitivity and respect: they have identities and personalities, often more distinct than men. And he has a subtle sense of humor, almost wry, anticipating the superb satires of his son, Giandomenico.
The Tiepolos in the Art Institute of Chicago are not the greatest Tiepolos, but they too are pretty good. They’re a series: “Rinaldo Enchanted by Armida,” illustrating passages from La Gerusalemme liberate, Torquato Tasso’s great epic of the First Crusade. Rinaldo is on course for
It’s hard to imagine a better match of text and picture than Tasso and Tiepolo: Tasso has great dignity and pomp, but also superb narrative drive, superbly captured in a remarkable English translation by Edward Fairfax:
But when she lookèd on his face awhile,
And saw how sweet he breath’d, how still he lay,
At first she stayed, astound with great dismay,
Then sat she down (so love can art beguile).
—Torquato Tasso, La Gerusalemme liberate XIV 66