March 27, 2011

Old money

Tiepolo left a self-portrait on the ceiling.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo died in Madrid on this date in 1770, having just passed his seventy-fourth birthday on March 5, a goodly age for the time.

Tiepolo died with his boots on, so to speak, working for the King of Spain on a ceiling fresco for the Throne Room.  Every noble eye in Europe wanted to look up and see a Tiepolo ceiling – it’s amazing how many vast and highly detailed works the Venetian master was able to complete in his lifetime, both large canvases for the palaces that lined the Grand Canal and the more time-consuming frescoes that adorn walls and ceilings in Spain, Germany and churches all over Italy.

Residence ceiling -'Allegory of the Planets and Continents'

One of his first big commissions was for the New Residence of the Prince-Bishops of Schoenborn.  The Schoenborns were old money in 1720, having been nobles since the late 14th century.  Besides ruling their county – which made them counts – they worked their way up pretty high in the Church, hence the title Prince-Bishop. In 1720, Johann, Prince-Bishop of Wurzburg, won half a million florins in a oourt case, which gave him the equivalent of $2 million in disposable income.

Already dissatisfied with the palace he was living in, he commissioned the New Residence.  He didn’t live to see it finished, but his brother Friedrich, also Prince-Bishop, saw it through to completion in 1744.

Staircase beneath the fresco.

Twenty-four years is a lot of construction time, but you can’t rush a 400-room Baroque Palace.  In 1753, Tiepolo was asked to ice the cake with frescoes, including one on the ceiling of the breathtaking entrance stairway. His work is the largest ceiling fresco in the world at more than 7,000 square feet.

The Residence is now a World Heritage site, representing as it does the quintessential Baroque palace.  You can see more of it here.

The palace is used for educational purposes now, but don’t worry, the Schoenborns can still hang their hats at Schloss Weissenstein, which looks a lot the same.  And happily for traditionalists, a Schoenborn – Christoph – is currently Archbishop of Vienna.

Backyard of the Residence, photo by Rainer Lippert.



  1. Dang and double dang, amazing beauty & lovely story thank you, Jean


    Comment by avery — March 27, 2011 @ 9:06 am | Reply

  2. .Ditto what Avery said


    Comment by GALYA TARMU — March 27, 2011 @ 8:38 pm | Reply

  3. A schloss is a schloss is a schloss. I’m going to say I saw this dumb thing. Spent a month in Bavaria so how could I have missed it? There was one schloss that was so baroque I broke. Enough already.


    Comment by Carol — March 28, 2011 @ 5:29 pm | Reply

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