Flock of Mountain Sheep with a Fir Tree

WAG 1993.2


Both this drawing and its pair ('Flock of Mountain Sheep with a Fir Tree' WAG 1993.3 also in the Walker Art Gallery collection) 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 1770 and 1790. 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. 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 deteriorated and worn. This fresco painted in tones of green, ochre and white showed sheep and cows watering, in the centre two pack asses resting, and on the right some rams and goats. 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. 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 delight. 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). 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. This is one of the artworks bequeathed by the Holt Family. The family wealth, which paid for the art collection, came mainly from their shipping line, which transported foodstuffs from around the world to the UK. However, some wealth came from the suffering of enslaved Africans - George Holt’s father had been a cotton broker in Liverpool during the early 19th century, when the family business relied upon slave-grown, imported cotton.