Giovanni Battista Tiepolo: Singende und musizierende Engel, ca. 1726, Kuppelfresko. Dom, Kapelle des Heiligen Sakraments, Udine
The large-format sketch for the decoration of the dome spanning the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament in the cathedral at Udine is one of the few surviving early drawings by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. It is executed in a colour technique rarely found in his work. Tiepolo was still a young man in 1726 when he was summoned from Venice to Udine in Friuli, where he executed ceiling paintings in the archbishop's palace and the cathedral. These frescos mark the start of his career as the greatest decorative painter in the eighteenth century. His works were in demand not only in Italy, but also throughout Europe.
On the sheet in the Städel Museum the proportions of the dome and the window which intersects it are laid down in precise, firm chalk lines. Above it, Tiepolo sketched his design with light, rapid pen strokes, which he then executed in masterful fashion with the paintbrush. To the left and right in the corners we can see angels making music, while four other angels are singing to the sounds of their instruments. They are arranged in two groups halfway up to the left and right of the window, and are accompanied by hovering cherubs. Another cherub is sitting at the top on a cloud billowing downwards through a painted opening in the ceiling. The direction of the light follows the natural light falling into the space through the window in the dome. The sketch was clearly produced early on during the period when the ceiling fresco was being designed, because the version which was actually executed shows considerable changes. Of the preparatory sketch, apart from the opening to heaven, only the two groups of singing angels have been taken over. Tiepolo will not have found the changes difficult: his lively temperament and quick mind are expressed in the drawing. In spite of the rapid speed at which he used his pen and pencil, the figures are characterised lightly and precisely. In line with the aim of the sketch, namely to create an illusion, they seem to detach themselves from the wall and appear to hover above the heads of the people occupying the space.