Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
(Venedig, 1696-1770, Madrid)
Diana Bathing, ca. 1743/44
Oil on canvas, 79 x 90 cm
Gemin/Pedrocco 302
Tiepolo on at least three occasions took up the theme of Diana and Actaeon, which was mainly known from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The painting in the Bührle Collection differs from the others in this group in so far as the hunter Actaeon is not, as usual, represented at the moment of his transformation and thus fully integrated in the action, but is shown as a fleeing stag vaguely outlined in the distance. In this way, the major emphasis is laid on the relief-like arrangement of Diana and her attendants in the foreground, and thus the Classicist conception of design is here unmistakable. This is particularly clear in the case of the group of figures on the right, where a nymph indicating the stag bends over her reclining companion, a motif that appears, in very similar treatment, on sarcophagus reliefs depicting the story of Endymion and the Dionysiac cycle showing the sleeping Ariadne. On the other hand, the rear view of the terrified Diana on the left recalls the Bolognese Academy of the Carracci. Corresponding suggestions were obviously given to the artist by Count Francesco Algarotti (1712-1764) in whose collection the picture was originally to be found and in the catalogue of which it is described in detail. Finally, Algarotti personally encouraged a tendency peculiar to Venetian art in the 18th century, the trick of making of traditional picture content, wherever possible, an occasion for a capriccio or even a scherzo. This may explain the ballet-like treatment of the frightened group, which is taken up by the landscape, so that even the unity of the picture is risked.