TIEPOLO DOMENICO - Head of a Philosopher with a Red HatThis work is one of a series of philosopher heads by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo. The group is based in part on an earlier "philosopher" series by his father, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, and also relates to two sets of etchings made by Giandomenico after his father's paintings, the Raccolta di Teste. It is generally thought that circa 1757 Giambattista produced his series in response to a specific commission, and that they "remained long enough in the studio to be etched by Domenico," who in turn used the etchings as models to paint his own variation on his father's conceptions.
This Head of a Philosopher is unusual for Giandomenico's philosopher series in that there is no known painted prototype by Giambattista. The painting does, however, correspond closely to etching no. 24 from his second set of Raccolta di Teste, as well as to a drawing by Giandomenico, formerly in a private collection. The present painting also closely follows the format and style of Giandomenico's other interpretations of his father's paintings. Like them, this Head of a Philosopher measures approximately 24 by 20 inches, it is rendered in an impressionistic manner, and it shows the philosopher's head on a large scale pushed right up to the forefront of the picture plane. Furthermore, this treatment of the head of an old bearded man in a conical hat does appear to have its origins in Giambattista's oeuvre, for example, in his Study for the Gathering of Manna, formerly in the collection of Dr. Tito Miotti, Undine.
Professor Knox speculates that Giovanni Domenico's group of philosopher portraits may have been a specific commission, and has suggested the possible involvement of Count Francesco Algarotti. Algarotti, an art collector and writer, was a friend and patron of Giambattista Tiepolo. He served as art advisor for Frederick-Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and later, for Frederick the Great. Knox points out that such a commission would have fit Algarotti's "antiquarian and literary turn of mind" and would have made "an appropriate offering to one of his princely friends in Germany, even to Frederick the Great himself." He further argues that the explanation for the commission of a group of philosophers could have derived from antiquity: “The tradition of a series of philosophical portraits goes back to Cicero, and Dante, in the Noble Castle of Limbo, has a 'philosophica famiglia’”