When Nelie and Edouard Jacquemart-Andre were planning their Paris mansion, they visited Venice in 1893. They were delighted to snap up a fresco by Giambattista Tiepolo. In fact they felt that it was just sitting there waiting for them, and to this day it remains the crown jewel of all their art collecting. The fresco had been painted for the Villa Contarini around 1745, when the great artist was at the height of his powers. The title is “Henri III Being Welcomed to the Contarini Villa.” It depicts an event that actually happened in French history: in 1574, the very young King Henri III, who was of Italian descent through his mother, Catherine de Medicis, stopped on his way to Paris to claim the throne. He was the fourth in line and had not been expected to reign. His brother, 24-year-old Charles IX, had died unexpectedly.
I don’t know why the fresco (and a companion ceiling, which the Jacquemart-Andres also bought) were up for sale. Presumably the noble Venetian family that had commissioned them had fallen on hard times. In any case, the French “Gazette des Beaux-Arts” rhadsodized about the fitness of this exquisite fresco for a grand French home: “No other Tiepolo can be closer to our heart; one would say it was made for us. The last great Venetian painter and a part of the history of France: is it not the most beautiful blend of Venetian and French?”
The colors are clear and delicate; the figures are arranged in a grand tableau that is also entirely natural. The king and his retinue of guards and ladies, dwarves and servants are climbing the stairs of the villa, ready to greet the Contarinis.
Faces look calm and dignified, as though greeting a king were an everyday occurence.
Just across the canal are beautiful palaces and gardens.
The occasion is grand, but gracious and informal. There’s even a little dog making the king feel welcome.
An attendant’s foot extends out of the outline of the painting. No problem! After all, Nelie and Edouard built an entire Belle Epoque mansion around this fresco. They just made a place in the marble frame for the errant foot.
There’s much more about the fresco, and about the mansion, at museejacquemart-andre.com. Vive la France!