Tiepolo’s reputation as the leading painter of his day won him major commissions for frescoes from monarchs and princes of the Church in Italy. In the spring of 1754, shortly after returning to Venice from Würzburg, where he painted a brilliant series of frescoes for the archbishop’s palace, he won the commission to fresco the ceiling of the newly constructed church of Santa Maria della Visitazione, known as the Pietà. The Kimbell oil sketch served as the model for executing these frescoes. In this celestial vision, the Virgin, clothed in white to denote her purity and surmounting a blue globe, is escorted by a glory of angels as she rises toward the Trinity—Christ holding his cross, the dove of the Holy Spirit, and God the Father, who holds Mary’s crown aloft as she is received into paradise, her eyes modestly cast earthward, mediating between heaven and earth. Along a curving balustrade marking the rim of the ceiling, angels lift their voices and play instruments in jubilation.
During Tiepolo’s day, actual music would have accompanied this celestial chorus. The adjacent Foundling Hospital of the Pietà, one of Venice’s four charitable institutions that cared for orphaned girls, was renowned for its school of music. Hidden behind several raised galleries, the choir and orchestra of young girls performed concerts written by musicians including Antonio Vivaldi, who taught violin at the Pietà earlier in the century.
Possibly the artist’s widow, Cecilia Guardi, c. 1770.
Possibly count Bernardino Algarotti Corniani, Venice.
Probably purchased in Venice by Edward Cheney [1803-1884], Venice, London, and Badger Hall, Shropshire, England, by 1856;
(his sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 29 April 1885, no. 161);
purchased by Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th earl of Rosebery, [1847-1929], London;
by inheritance to his son, Albert Edward Harry Mayer Archibald Primrose, 6th earl of Rosebery [1882-1974], London;
by inheritance to his widow, Eva Isabel Marian, countess of Rosebery [d. 1987], London;
(sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., London, 24 March 1976, no. 12, as Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo);
purchased for £80,000 by a private collector, England;
(sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., London, 8 April 1981, no. 111, unsold, as Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo).
(Newhouse Galleries, Inc., New York);
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1984.