Singing and Music-Making Angels: Preparatory drawing for the ceiling of Udine Cathedral

ca. 1726

Pen and brown ink, brush and two shades of brown, red, green, violet and grey ink, over grey chalk
Inv. No. 14188

51.5 × 76.1 cm

zur  Biographie

This large-scale design for the decoration of the semi-dome above the chapel of the Holy Sacrament in Udine Cathedral is one of the few early drawings by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo to have come down to us; moreover, it is executed in a polychrome technique only rarely found elsewhere in his oeuvre. In 1726 Tiepolo, still a young man at the time, was summoned from Venice to Udine, in Friuli, to carry out ceiling paintings in the archbishop’s palace and the cathedral. These frescoes are among the works that mark the beginning of his career as probably the greatest eighteenth-century painter of interior decorations, whose works were in demand not only in Italy but throughout Europe.


On the sheet in the Städel Museum, the proportions of the semi-dome and the window which cuts into it are indicated with precise, firm chalk lines. Over them, Tiepolo sketched his designs with free, rapid pen-strokes and then, with great skill and imagination, added colour using a brush. In the corners to the left and right, angels can be seen making music; their performance accompanies the singing of four more angels arranged in two groups at the left and right of the window, half-way up, with putti hovering near them. At the very top, another putto sits on a cloud which swells down through a painted opening in the ceiling. The play of light in the picture imitates the path of the natural light entering through the window in the dome.


The design evidently represents an early stage in the work on the ceiling fresco, because the version actually executed differs from it considerably. The only elements of the preparatory drawing used for the final painting are the opening to the sky and the two groups of singing angels. Changes will not have caused Tiepolo any difficulty. The drawing vividly reflects his lively temperament and quick brain; despite the extraordinary speed with which he wielded his pen and brush, the figures are evoked with lightness and precision. Creating the illusion intended by the design, they detach themselves from the interior surface of the dome and seem to float freely in the air above the heads of people below.

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