Henri de Valois (1551-1589), third son of Henri II and Catherine de Medici, was elected King of Poland in May 1573, but it would not be until January of the following year that he would arrive at the Polish border and 21 February 1574 before he would be crowned in Warsaw. Less than four months later, Henry would abdicate the throne and depart Poland in unseemly haste, returning to France upon the news that his elder brother, Charles IX, had died and the French throne was his to claim. He was to be crowned Henri III, King of France, at the Cathedral of Reims on 13 February 1575.
Henri returned home by way of Vienna and Venice. He arrived in Venice on 18 July 1574 and stayed for ten days of official festivities and sightseeing. His welcome in front of the church of San Nicolò on the Lido was a lavish affair for which Palladio erected a triumphal arch and open loggia supported by ten Corinthian columns. This temporary loggia was decorated with scenes from the young king's life painted by Tintoretto and Veronese and the ceiling was decorated with winged victories carrying wreaths as if to crown Henri when he passed beneath them. His reception at Villa Contarini, the country estate at Mira built in 1558 for Federico Contarini, one of the procurators of San Marco, was far more modest, little more than a brief and impromptu stopover made by the king during a boat trip down the Brenta en route to Padua. Nevertheless, the visit of foreign royalty to the villa -- which passed into the possession of the Pisani family in the middle of the seventeenth century -- would be forever mythologized as the most illustrious day in its history. It was natural, therefore, that when Vincenzo I Sebastiano Pisani (1723-1752) inherited the villa upon his father's death in 1744, and set upon refurbishing it, he commissioned Tiepolo to create a vast decorative scheme to commemorate this great event.
Together with his architectural collaborator Girolamo Mengozzi Colonna, who provided designs for the quadratura, and his talented son Domenico, who certainly assisted in the execution of the fresco, Gianbattista Tiepolo recreated The Arrival of Henri III at the Villa Contarini on the back wall of a loggia in the villa that opened out directly onto the river. Nothing could have better suited Tiepolo's imagination than to have the opportunity to paint in a grand Renaissance villa a historical event from the epoch of Veronese, whose epic feast scenes in fancy-dress had long been among Tiepolo's principal inspirations. Tiepolo's ingenious solution for the inherent problems of working within the open loggia was to conceive of the scene as a mirror image of the actual view of the Brenta, effectively dissolving the wall and opening it out in a great space to convey a porch and a view beyond the river and other villas along its banks. The divide between art and life was breached, as the life-sized Henri III ascends the steps of the villa into a painted loggia where the Contarini family and various imaginatively posed spectators lean over each other to greet the king and his retinue, and are joined by the real life spectators on the other side who are admiring Tiepolo's painting.
Beverly Louise Brown, in her exemplary study of the Pisani commission, shrewdly observed that Tiepolo's conception of his painting seems to rely on several elements found in the contemporary accounts of Henri III's visit to Venice. Palladio's temporary loggia which greeted the king on his arrival on the Lido would seem to be the inspiration for the architectural setting of the fresco (designed by Mengozzi Colonna), although the artist substituted Doric columns for the expanse of Corinthian columns as described. The winged victories on Palladio's ceiling were reproduced by Tiepolo on the illusionistic ceiling he created in the loggia at Villa Pisani.
No documentation survives pertaining to the commission, but it can be dated to a fairly narrow span of years. Vincenzo Pisani inherited the villa in 1744; Tiepolo and his family left Venice for Würzburg in November 1750, and two visitors composed praising accounts of the completed frescoes shortly thereafter. In 1752 the architect Tommaso Temanza dedicated his Vita di Jacopo Sansovino to Vincenzo Pisani, noting in his introduction Pisani's interest in the arts and singling out Tiepolo's frescoes at Mira for particular praise. In 1754, the Marquis de Vandières, future Marquis de Marigny, in a letter he wrote to Charles Natoire, the Director of the French Academy in Rome, recalled having seen the frescoes sometime earlier. He recommended that Natoire send pensionnaires to Mira on their way home to France to make copies of the frescoes, whose historic French theme he thought would be of particular interest to them; as Vandières left Italy in the spring of 1751, the decorations must have been completed by then. In fact, it seems likely that Tiepolo received the commission in 1744 and would have endeavored to complete the decorations by the time Vincenzo Pisani married in September 1745.
The extraordinary oil sketch for the Villa Pisani fresco is among the largest and most fully finished that Tiepolo ever produced. It is first recorded in the collection of Tiepolo's great friend and patron Count Francesco Algarotti (1712-1764). The son of a wealthy Venetian merchant, Algarotti was well-educated and widely travelled and much admired as a connoisseur of fine paintings. In 1743, he became the agent for Frederick-Augustus II, Elector of Saxony, entrusted with acquiring paintings for the royal collection, before leaving to take up duties as an art advisor to Frederick the Great. He purchased thirteen paintings by Tiepolo for his personal collection, including an oil sketch for the Banquet of Cleopatra (Musée Cognacq-Jay, Paris). On 10 May 1756, Algarotti wrote to Giampietro Zanotti in Bologna describing his visit to the Villa Pisani and the fresco of The Arrival of Henri III at the Villa Contarini, adding proudly, 'I own the sketch for this beautiful picture, which I am sure you would like very much.' Of the thirteen pictures by Tiepolo in the inventory drawn up after Algarotti's death, this is the only one identified by the connoisseur himself as being in his collection.
Algarotti's sketch -- a modello or presentation piece, really -- would presumably have been made to show Vincenzo Pisani for his approval before Tiepolo undertook the arduous task of frescoing the wall, but it may have remained the property of the artist rather than the patron, allowing Tiepolo to sell (or give) it to his friend. It differs from the fresco in several important aspects. Several figures assume somewhat different poses in the final work, but of greater significance is the increased number of figures that Tiepolo had to invent to populate the fresco which was proportionally quite a bit longer than the sketch. Today, the presentation piece provides a more satisfying means of experiencing Tiepolo's grand composition than does the fresco itself, which is badly faded and greatly damaged. In 1893 Edouard André and his wife Nélie Jacquemart dismantled the entire décor and moved it from Mira to their townhouse on the Boulevard Haussmann in Paris (the site of the Musée Jacquemart-André); in the process, the frescoes were altered and greatly disfigured.
The present painting maintains all the sparkle and freshness of touch that the fresco lacks. The high degree of finish and carefully layered brushwork are typical of Tiepolo's presentation pieces, Beverly Brown notes. 'Over a thin layer of red ground, a second thicker layer of grayish cream was applied, and on top of this double ground Tiepolo drew the principal outlines of the scene. The succeeding layers of luminous pigment, with one wet color often pulled through another, were finally reinforced by delicate brown contour lines. Like icing on a cake, broken strokes of creamy buff were drizzled over the ruby red underskirt of the lady in white, creating the effect of an embroidery border of golden thread.' As Brown suggests, the intended purpose of the painting -- its use as a highly polished and meditated presentation piece rather than a more freely painted first idea for a composition -- determined its more controlled and careful handling. Brown attributes a certain heaviness to the 'laboriously worked and somewhat leaden architecture of the loggia,' which she believes 'was modified at some later point, giving it a more sophisticated architectural vocabulary'. Perhaps, she posits, the loggia was altered shortly after the sketch was completed and before it was sent from Tiepolo's shop to Algarotti's collection, in order to approximate the higher degree of finish associated with independent pictures. Since we know that Mengozzi Colonna designed the trompe l'oeil architectural setting for the fresco, it seems likely that he would have been responsible for modifying aspects of the loggia in the present sketch, especially as it was being brought to a higher level of finish for Algarotti, one of the most important collectors of the day. 'In any case,' as Brown notes, 'these somewhat unfortunate modifications to the architectural setting should not cast doubt on the authenticity of Tiepolo's brilliant workmanship elsewhere in the sketch.'
That brilliance of workmanship is in evidence throughout The Arrival of Henri III at the Villa Contarini -- in its sparkling, light-filled landscape, noble composition, elegant protagonists, masterfully orchestrated crowd, sparkling displays of silks and satins, and overflowing abundance of visual imagination. As Michael Levey observed, Tiepolo 'absorbed it all and then set out to create his own pictorial kingdom, a Venice of the imagination, more highly colored, more suffused with light, more graceful, more sheerly enchanted.'
The Arrival of Henry III at the Villa Contarini
Oil on canvas
A CONNOISSEUR'S COLLECTION: PROPERTY OF ROBERT H. AND CLARICE SMITH
Giambattista Tiepolo , 18th Century, Paintings, oil, Italy, Old Master, Royalty
Fort Worth, Texas, Kimball Art Museum, Old Master Paintings: Cranach to Corot, 23 January-14 March 1982, no. 16.
Fort Worth, Texas, Kimbell Art Museum, Giambattista Tiepolo: Master of the Oil Sketch, 18 September-12 December 1993, no. 34. Paris, France, Musée Jacquemart André, Les Fresques de Tiepolo, 19 October-18 January 1999.
Old Master & British Paintings
28¼ x 42 in. (71.7 x 106.7 cm.)
F. Algarotti, Opera del Conte Algarotti, Livorno, 1764, VI, p. 39.
G. Selva, Catalogo dei quadri, dei disegni, e dei libri che trattano dell'arte del disegno della galleria del fu Sig. Conte Algarotti in Venezia, Venice, [n.d.; post 1776], p. XXIV.
M.G. Bottari and S. Ticozzi, Raccolta di lettere sulla pittura, scultura ed architettura scritte da' più celebri personaggi dei secoli XV, XVI, e XVII, 1822, VII, p. 396.
H. de Chennevières, 'Les Tiepolos de l'Hotel Edouard André' Gazette des Beaux-Arts, XV, 1896, pp. 121-130.
P. Molmenti, G.B. Tiepolo: La sua vita e le sue opere, Milan, 1909, pp. 252-254.
E. Sack, Giambattista und Domenico Tiepolo, Hamburg, 1910, pp. 118, 183, 188 and 215, no. 323.
P. Molmenti, Tiepolo: La vie et l'oeuvre du Peintre, Paris, 1911, pp. 194-196.
Catalogue Itineraire, Musée Jacquemart-André Paris, 1929, p. 104, no. 725.
M. Levey, 'Two Paintings by Tiepolo from the Algarotti Collection', Burlington Magazine, CII, June 1960, p. 257.
A. Morassi, Complete Catalogue of the Paintings of G.B. Tiepolo, London, 1962, pp. 5, 13 and 36.
A. Palluchini and G. Piovene, L'Opera completa di Giambattista Tiepolo, Milan, 1968, p. 115. M. Precerutti Garberi, Affreschi settecenteschi delle ville venete, Milan, 1968, p. 138.
F. Haskell, Patrons and Painters: A Study in the Relations Between Italian Art and Society in the Age of the Baroque, 2nd ed., New Haven and London, 1980, p. 357.
C. Wright, Catalogue of Old Master Paintings from a Private Collection in the United States, London, 1984, pp. 87-90.
The Complete Catalogue of the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, New York, 1986, p. 74.
M. Levey, Giambattista Tiepolo: His Life and Art, New Haven, 1986, p. 139.
B.L. Brown et al., Giambattista Tiepolo: Master of the Oil Sketch, exhibition catalogue, Milan, 1993, pp. 113, 246-249, no. 34.
M. Gemin and F. Pedrocco, Giambattista Tiepolo, i dipinti: Opera completa, Venice, 1993, pp. 388-389, no. 361a.
C. Whistler, 'Review: Tiepolo Oil Sketches. Fort Worth', The Burlington Magazine, CXXXV, no. 1089, p. 859.
Count Francesco Algarotti, Venice, by 1756.
Wilhelm Rothschild, Schloss Grünberg, Frankfurt am Main, and (presumably) by descent to his daughter, Adelheid de Rothschild, and by descent in the Rothschild family;
Confiscated in Paris by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg following the Nazi Occupation of Paris, May 1940;
Acquired for Hermann Goering on 4 December 1941 (inv. RM 1150);
Transferred to the Munich Collecting Point by Western Allied Forces (MCCP no. 6759);
Repatriated to Paris on 19 September 1946. Baron Edmond de Rothschild, Château de Prégny, Geneva, until 1980.
with Colnaghi's, London, 1981, where acquired by
S.T. Fee, Oklahoma City; Christie's, New York, 9 May 1985, lot 20.
with Newhouse Galleries, New York, from whom acquired by the present owner.