Art: Orphan Celebrated

For years 18th century Italian painting has been one of art history's orphans: the general supposition was that after 1650, Italian art slid into provincial decadence. From this sad landscape, littered with insignificant talents fit only for doctoral theses or bourgeois mantels, a few fine painters emerged: Tiepolo, Canaletto, Guardi, a handful of others. Giovanni-Battista Tiepolo, in fact, seems in retrospect to have been the last Italian artist formed in the heroic mold. A protean figure of bewildering facility and adaptability, he was the link between high historical painting and rococo elegance, able...

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