Allegory of the Planets and Continents

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Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Allegory of the Planets and Continents, 1752

If the Rococo movement were a contest to include the most post-Baroque extravagance, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo could easily rest on his laurels.  A fresco spanning nearly thirty square feet, Allegory of the Planets and Continents attempts to encapsulate European perspectives of the entire known universe.  The periphery depicts America, Africa, Asia, and Europe, while in the center a line of classical gods spirals up to the sun beyond Apollo.  In keeping with the Rococo standard of over-embellishment and intense details, Tiepolo creates a graceful setting for nearly one hundred deities, humans, and animals.

On the American side of the fresco gathers a feather- and antler-clad band of natives, with a kingly figure almost mockingly perched upon an alligator, maybe a sign of his false throne.  On the opposite side of the work sits, much more elevated, an imperious-looking European ruler with the laurels of Rome, the greatest ruler in the world.  On the other hand, Asia's leader figure appears to be falling off of an elephant as other humans tumble on the ground and a philosopher gesticulate.  And the "African" representatives glory in wealth and lie lazily against camels.  One could note how the actual African continent is neglected in favor of Middle Eastern culture.  The sky holds Hermes with his trademark caduceus and array of other winged beings on clouds.

Allegory of the Planets and Continents isn't a simple ceiling decoration.  For a moment, stop analyzing.  Just observe.  Count the subjects.  See how the dark border fades into sunlight.  It may not be politically correct, but it is an artistic attempt to capture the world with exquisite detail.  Even if it's a very Eurocentric world.

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