This review essay emphasizes the distinction between academic art history, based ultimately on the model of scientific research, and the sort that Roberto Calasso practices in his 2009 study Tiepolo in Pink. It is difficult to locate the book's genre, and the reviewer rejects identifying it as a biography (of the sort practiced by Irving Stone, Somerset Maugham, and Dimitri Merejkovski), since Calasso, like most other writers on Tiepolo, stresses how little we know about his personality, which was elusive, and about his private life, which was undramatic. What chiefly interests both Calasso and the reviewer is whether Tiepolo, whose ceiling frescoes are without gravity—their “antigravity” draws the painted figures upward—is an artist without gravitas. The reviewer supports Calasso's argument that the thirty-two etchings comprising the Capricci and Scherzi make it absurd to consider Tiepolo artistically, intellectually, or morally frivolous. “Scientific” art historians have applied the category of “decoration” to these somber etchings, with their incomprehensible allegories, but Calasso, himself an artist (a novelist), approaches these pictures without scientific prejudice. The reviewer traces the dour attitude of mainstream art historians toward Tiepolo to his rivalry for commissions in the 1760s with Anton Raphael Mengs, a representative of the rising Enlightenment cult of virtue and the austere aesthetics of a rising neoclassicism. From that time on, art historians have treated Tiepolo's work as unhealthy, lightweight, and bizarre, but this review supports Calasso's claim that his work is actually sober and moving. The review concludes that there are artists whom the narrow sensibility of standard art historians will never be able to accommodate, Tiepolo being only one among several.
Wayne Andersen; TIEPOLO: An Artist without Gravity. Common Knowledge 1 January 2013; 19 (1): 164–170. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-1816007
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