G.B. Tiepolo - Cacciatore a cavallo
Giovan Battista Tiepolo
(Venezia, 1696 - Madrid, 1770)
Cacciatore con cervo / Hunter on Horseback, 1718 - 1730
oil on canvas, cm. 262 x 148
Milano, Collezione d’arte della Fondazione Cariplo
Critics now agree that, together with Hunter with a Stag, this canvas formed part of a series of episodes in the life of Zenobia that Alvise Zenobio commissioned Giovanni Battista Tiepolo to paint for his mansion in Venice. The work may have been planned in connection with Zenobio’s marriage to the Venetian lady Alba Grimani, which took place in 1718, and it may have taken almost a decade to complete. Having been transferred from Venice to the Villa Grimani at Noventa Padovana, the paintings came onto the market in 1905 and changed hands a number of times during the century, before they were purchased for the Cariplo Collection in 1983.
The series of episodes from the life of Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, defeated by Aurelian in 272 AD, also included her speech to her troops (Washington, National Gallery) and submission to Aurelian (Madrid, Prado) as well as the triumph of Aurelian (Turin, Galleria Sabauda). The purpose of the canvases in the Cariplo Collection is uncertain. While some scholars see them as pieces of a fourth canvas of the same size as the other three and depicting Zenobia out hunting, others instead claim that they were the side panels of the scene of the queen addressing her warriors. The latter view appears to be more likely, both because the works are perfectly balanced and complete in structural terms and because there is an old copy of the depiction of the mounted hunter, which would suggest that the original must have been exactly as we see it today from the very beginning. The works would thus be two purely decorative panels designed to occupy spaces of limited width, possibly between windows, in much the same way as entre fenêtre tapestries.
The date of around 1720 suggested by stylistic analysis would support the hypothesis that the cycle was commissioned for the Zenobio-Grimani wedding, an event of great prestige for the client, who thus consolidated his status as a member of the Venetian nobility. Among other things, the Zenobio family – who were of Greek origin, having moved first to the Provincie of Verona before settling in Venice and acquiring noble rank there in 1647 – had already distinguished themselves as patrons of the arts. Suffice it to mention that Luca Carlevarijs was “sponsored” at the beginning of his career by the family and so closely associated with them as to be known as “Luca di Ca’ Zenobio”.
These pieces can thus be regarded as early works by Tiepolo painted around the year 1720. In any event, they were unquestionably painted some time before 1732, when they were described by Vincenzo Da Canal in his biography of Gregorio Lazzarini. It may well have been precisely this artist, who had already worked for the Zenobio family at the beginning of the century, who recommended his promising pupil to them. While Lazzarini’s influence can, in fact, be seen in the richly coloured palette with marked chiaroscuro contrasts, Tiepolo’s personality already emerges in embryonic form in the freedom of composition, the lightness with which the figures are delineated and the focus on movement. This can be seen most clearly in the sudden turn of the rider’s head towards the viewer while the horse is looking in the opposite direction.