Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Tao of Tiepolo (Gesturing with Roberto Calasso)

I remember staring at the vistas painted by Tiepolo in the Residenz at Wurzburg, yearning to float up and join the jolly, sleek figures in their billowing clouds, bathed in milky light. That was 25 years ago, and still I dream of Tiepolo's celestial fields and the swirling squadrons of gods, angels, wise men, and cherubim.

No one captures the essence of Tiepolo-- and the sheer in-sighing of his works-- better than Roberto Calasso, whose study of the painter was published by Knopf in 2009 (well translated by Alastair McEwen) as Tiepolo Pink. Calasso is one of the most original thinkers alive today: polymathic, eccentric, finding connections that others miss, making his case with gentle flamboyance (some of his points seem innocuous at first glance, only to reveal their ambition upon closer reading). He dares the reader to follow him along strange trajectories, using his erudition not as a bludgeon but as a diviner's rod.

Lobster and Canary will come back to Calasso and Tiepolo Pink in later postings. For now, we are tasting this amuse-bouche by Calasso, half-understanding what he means, and anticipating the teasing forth of further meaning:

"Tiepolo is an extreme example of Taoist suppleness in art, a quality inconceivable before him, and never attained after him. If he was shelved for a century, if certain canvases of his lay rolled up in storehouses, it was only because history rightly perceived him as an intruder, while it stubbornly worked to make sensibilities denser, more unsophisticated." (pg. 32, Calasso, Tiepolo Pink).

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