FRAME|WORK: The Empire of Flora by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

FRAME|WORK is a weekly blog series that highlights an artwork in the Museums' permanent collections. This week we present a dynamic work by one of Italy’s most important painters. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s The Empire of Flora is currently on loan to the Allentown Art Museum where it is featured in the special exhibition Shared Treasure: The Legacy of Samuel H. Kress.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Italian, 1696–1770). The Empire of Flora, ca. 1743. Oil on canvas. Gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. 61.44.19

The greatest Italian painter of the 18th century, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo perfected an Italian interpretation of rococo decorative vocabulary. Tiepolo maintained a lifelong commitment to the artistic expressiveness of the human form, and whether religious or historical characters or the romping putti in this picture, all of his figures exhibit a distinctive grace and charm. Drawing on contemporary notions that painted scenes should be presented as staged fiction, Tiepolo lured viewers into fanciful depictions replete with grandiose costumes and dramatic action and created artworks that appealed directly to the viewer's imagination.

In July of 1743, Count Francesco Algarotti commissioned this painting from Tiepolo in order to present it to Count Heinrich von Brühl, the powerful minister of King Augustus III of Saxony and Poland. With this gift and its companion painting (Maecenas Presenting the Arts to Augustus in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg), Algarotti hoped to win an important political appointment in Dresden. Tiepolo weaves together a rococo concoction with delightful nudes and fluttering draperies set off against the lush green and blue tapestry of an Italian garden that also makes specific reference to the painting’s destined owner. The garden fountain in the background re-creates a Neptune group on the grounds of Count von Brühl’s Dresden residence.

When Samuel Kress died in 1961, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation donated nearly 3,000 works of European art to museums, universities and other cultural institutions throughout the United States. It is in celebration of the 50th anniversary of this gift that the Allentown Art Museum has put on its current exhibition. The Fine Arts Museums' collection boasts nearly 40 artworks from this prestigious collector, many of which are on display in Gallery 4 at the Legion of Honor.

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Further reading: Legion of Honor Selected Works and Masterworks of European Painting in the California Palace of the Legion of Honor (1999).