'Flock of Mountain Sheep with a Fir Tree'

Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (Venice, 1727 - 1804 Venice, Italy)

Flock of mountain sheep face towards the viewer

Artwork details

Medium and Support: Pen and grey ink with grey wash on paper
Dimensions: 25.1 x 18cm
Date: 1790s
Signed: Signed lower right corner of drawing on ledge: Domco Tiepolo f. On reverse in pencil at lower right the number: 17 (with a continental style 7) .
Accession No: WAG1993.2

Both this drawing and its pair| may be compositional ideas for one of a series of frescoes of animals in landscape settings, which Domenico Tiepolo painted above the doors and along the walls of the Tiepolo family villa at Zianigo in Mirano (halfway between Venice and Padua) sometime between the 1770s and the mid-1790s. The surviving frescoes are inscribed with the dates: 1759, 1771, 1791, 1797. The wash ledge, drawn freehand in the foreground, could represent the dado running around the lower part of the villa’s room walls or a door-frame.

On the death of his father Giambattista Tiepolo in 1770, Domenico returned from Madrid, where he had been in artistic service at the Spanish court, to Venice, where he became the city’s leading history painter. He spent much time at the family’s country villa especially after his semi-retirement as a professional artist in 1785. There he concentrated on decorating the house and sought relaxation by drawing animals and caricatures of daily life. Most of these frescoes were removed from the walls in 1906-7, as they were in danger of being sold abroad, and were transferred to canvas for display at the Ca' Rezzonico, Venice's museum of eighteenth-century art. A few frescoes that were in a more damaged state and considered less important were left on the walls of the first-floor central reception hall and other adjoining rooms. When the remaining five frescoes at the privately owned Villa Tiepolo were described in 1959 one, on the long wall over the entrance from the staircase, was already very deteriorated and worn1|. This fresco painted in tones of green, ochre and white showed on the left sheep and cows watering, in the centre two pack asses resting, and on the right some rams and goats2|. Because the fresco was so 'cracked and rubbed' it was not illustrated in 1959, but its description suggests that the Walker’s drawings may have been related to that fresco or used in some way towards the decoration of the rest of the house, including the demolished west wing of the villa, which was destroyed by fire in 19213|. Although Domenico signed the drawings they were unlikely to have been produced for the collectors’ market. They were almost certainly made for his own pleasure. Despite the fact that since his marriage in 1774 he had owned a house in Venice, Zianigo was his true home, filled with images for his and his family’s delight4|.

Although his many drawings show how attracted to the natural world Domenico Tiepolo was, he rarely drew animals from nature, preferring instead to take motifs from prints. The Walker’s drawings are no exception. The poses of the front row of sheep in both drawings were inspired by and adapted from the animals in the foreground of an eighteenth-century engraving by Pietro Monaco (1707-1772), which reproduced a painting by the seventeenth-century artist Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (1609-1664) of the Old Testament scene, 'David leading away his father's flock of sheep' (Kings I, chapter16, verses19-20)5|.

© Copyright The Trustees of The British Museum|

© The Trustees of The British Museum (enlarged version|)

The print’s foreground shows five sheep being driven by David and trotting towards the viewer. The three sheep on the left, centre and right provide the models for the front row in both of Domenico Tiepolo’s drawings and the sheep second from left in the print is possibly the model for the sheep facing us from second row in WAG 1993.3. Tiepolo has also ignored all the human figures and the laden mule in the Monaco print and in the case of WAG 1993.3 has moved the tree from the left to the right side. When Monaco published the print in 1763 the Castiglione painting was in the collection of the British Consul in Venice, John Smith, and Domenico was in Spain. Domenico Tiepolo presumably acquired a copy of the print after his return to Venice in 1770. 

A comparable drawing in black and grey ink and grey wash by Domenico Tiepolo, but slightly larger (26.8 x 19.8cm), 'Flock of Sheep drinking at a pool with a Bullock and a Dog', also made use of another Monaco print, and has been related to the left-hand section of the same first floor fresco at Zianigo to which the Walker’s drawings may be linked6|. Another drawing, in brown ink, showing the same sheep as WAG 1993.2 but with no ‘fresco border’, and extended to either side with a shepherd to the left and to the right two caricatured figures seen from behind, was on the London market in 19957|.

In the 1790s, when the Walker’s drawings are most likely to have been produced, Domenico Tiepolo drew several large series of comic and satirical scenes from contemporary life. The Walker’s drawings show his innate instincts for and delight in playful caricature. Domenico has exaggerated the more anthropomorphic aspects of Castiglione’s animals and created from Monaco’s rather dry and solemn reproductive print these amusing flocks of knock-kneed sheep careering along a mountain path towards the viewer.


Heim Gallery, London, 1967; bought from Heim Gallery by George Palmer Holt, 16th January 1968 and bequeathed to Walker Art Gallery in 19908|.


  • Heim Gallery, London,1967 p.15 nos. 70, 71;
  • Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 'Why Artists Draw' 15 May-2 August 1992.

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  1. James Byam Shaw, 'The Remaining Frescoes in the Villa Tiepolo at Zianigo', 'Burlington Magazine', vol. 101, 1959, pp. 391-6. All the remaining frescoes, including one of a ‘Herd of cows, donkeys and goats’, were later restored in 1974 , see F Pedrocco, ‘Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo: gli affreschi della villa di Zianigo’ in 'Satiri, Centauri e Pulcinelli, gli affreschi restaurati di Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo conservati a Ca’Rezzonico', Museo Correr, 2000, p. 24; Mario Guiotto, ‘Vicende storiche e restauro della Villa Tiepolo’, 'Ateneo Veneto', 1976, pp. 24-25.
  2. The animals in the Walker’s drawings are definitely sheep. Confirmation of their identity provided by Clem Fisher, Curator of Birds & Mammals, National Museums Liverpool.
  3. Byam Shaw, see above n.1 p.395, did not believe that any of Domenico’s late drawings were direct studies for his paintings, but acted as compositional inspiration when he began his fresco series. The demolished west wing was also decorated with animal motifs. Pompeo Molmenti, ‘La villa di Zianigo e gli affreschi di Giandomenico Tiepolo’, 'Emporium. Rivista mensile illustrate d’arte, letteratura, scienze e varietà', September 1907, p.198, lists two overdoor frescoes of ‘animals’ in rooms on the northern side of the west wing; see also the firescreen painted by Domenico with the image of a dog, now in the Ca’ Rezzonico, in the entry by Stephen Ongpin, 'Jean-Luc Baroni: Master Drawings', New York & London, 2005, no.26.
  4. H Gealt & G Knox, 'Domenico Tiepolo Master Draftsman', exhibition catalogue for Museo Civico, Udine & University of Indiana, Bloomington, Electa Milan, 1996, p.29-30.
  5. Pietro Monaco 'Raccolta di centododici stampe', 1763, no. 82 reproduced in Davide Apolloni, 'Pietro Monaco e la Raccolta di cento dodici stampe di pitture della storia sacra', edizione della laguna, Rome, 2000, p.281.
  6. Metropolitan Museum, New York, Robert Lehman collection, 1975.1.525, illustrated in J Byam Shaw & G Knox, 'The Robert Lehman Collection: Eighteenth-Century Drawings', vol.VI, 1987, no.153. Unlike either of the Walker’s drawings, this drawing was formerly in the collection of Paul Wallraf in 1959.
  7. Information from Flavia Ormond 16/6/1995.
  8. George Palmer Holt (died 1990) was the great grandson of George Holt (1825-1896) who assembled the art collection at Sudley House, Liverpool, and as such was a trustee of National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside.