Three magicians burning a snake

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
Venice 1696 - Madrid 1770
Three magicians burning a snake
Plate: 221 x 178 mm. Sheet: 320 x 253 mm

Fine impression of the first state before the number, with remnants of ink along the platemark as in pristine impressions.

The present example is in excellent condition, with wide margins.

Numbered in pen and brown ink in lower right corner 38.

‘In diffused noonday light the etched lines linger in the shadows, with just enough modelling to sufficiently define form. The protagonists performing the ritual sacrifice of an asp are philosophers and alchemists, their rite seemingly suggesting the notion that rebirth follows purification’ (Succi, op. cit. p. 366).

This etching, from the series Scherzi di Fantasia, depicts a group of figures performing a rite. Three men stand by an altar adorned with the head of a faun, upon which a snake is immolated. In front of them is a seated woman holding a torch; seen from behind, she observes the ritual. To the left, behind the men, a sword-bearing youth stands in their shadow. The entire scene takes place before a sarcophagus which occupies the upper part of the composition.

The present sheet belongs to the group of engravings that Tiepolo executed between 1747 and 1749, shortly before his departure for Würzburg. Prints from this period are characterised by stronger and rapid strokes. Their ‘pyromantic and alchemical rhythms’ endow the composition.

This print was excluded from the IV Edizione del Catalogo di Giandomenico. The sacrifice of a serpent seemingly evokes a rite of purification. This, combined with themes and symbols connected with sorcery, prevented the publication of the etching.

The artist’s first idea for this subject is recorded in a drawing preserved at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Reynolds 1940, Ill B, Knox 1975 n. 127 recto.

Alexandre De Vesme: Le peintre- Graveur italien. Milan Ulrico Hoepli-Editeur, 1906 p.385, n. 13-35. Scherzi di fantasia, suite de 23 pièces, dont 21 en hauter et 2 en largeur. Premier etat, avant l’inscription et le numèro.
Aldo Rizzi: Le acqueforti dei Tiepolo, catalogo della mostra tenutasi a Udine, Loggia del Lionello 19 settembre -24 ottobre 1970; n. 4 degli Scherzi, Tre Maghi bruciano un serpente secondo stato.
Diane Russel, National Gallery of Washington, pag. 54, n. 12. Prints of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo in the Rosenwald Album, pag. 54, n.12, 1972.
Dario Succi: La Serenissima nello specchio di rame, Splendore di una civiltà figurativa del Settecento, L’Opera completa dei grandi maestri veneti , in due volumi, Grafiche  Antiga S.P.A.,Crocetta del Montello, Treviso, 2013.

Price on application

Born into a wealthy family in Venice, Giambattista Tiepolo was recognized by contemporaries throughout Europe as the greatest painter of large-scale decorative frescoes in the 1700ies. He was admired for having brought fresco painting to new heights of technical virtuosity, illumination, and dramatic effect. In 1710 Tiepolo became a pupil of Gregorio Lazzarini, a successful painter with an eclectic style. He was, though, at least equally strongly influenced by his study of the works of other contemporary artists such as Sebastiano Ricci and Piazzetta and those of his Venetian predecessors, especially Tintoretto and Veronese. In 1719 he joined the Venetian guild of painters and soon turned away from the darker hues of the Baroque opting for sunny colourful tableaux instead. His first success testified to his new style: a series of frescoes on biblical scenes for the episcopal palace in Udine in 1726. Tiepolo's commissions came from the old established families of Italy, religious orders, and the royal houses of Spain, Germany, Sweden, and Russia. Tiepolo was equally prized as a draftsman: his powers of invention were boundless and his facility without equal. His imaginative prints enjoyed wide fame and their dreamlike and sometimes troubling imagery of sorcerers and punchinellos may have influenced Goya.

Other works of the master