Master drawings from the collection of Horace Wood Brock

February 2009 | Horace Wood “Woody” Brock defines himself as a collector of fine aristocratic furniture and decorative objects, especially English and French eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century pieces—Louis XIV, neo-Palladian, rococo, chinoiserie, Regency, Empire—but he is also a very significant collector of master drawings. These range from mid-sixteenth-century Italian to early nineteenth-century French and are wonderfully diverse in style, subject matter, and technique. 

Brock is particularly fond of drawing materials that provide subtle suggestions of color: red chalk, blue paper, and, above all, luminous washes of ink from gold to brown. Perhaps the most spectacular of the wash drawings in his collection is the Venetian artist Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo’s sumptuous, highly theatrical Resurrection of Christ (Fig. 5), in which the risen Christ, virtually exploding from the tomb, soars heavenward in a blinding glory of mystic light. After the death of his father, Giovanni Battista (1696–1770), the head of the family painting firm, and Giovanni Domenico’s own retirement about 1785 from painting decorations for churches and palaces, he began to produce finished drawings executed in pen and wash, often in series. This spectacular sheet is from a group of over three hundred large sheets (each measuring approximately 18 by 14 inches) devoted to New Testament themes. 

The several drawings by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo are among the highpoints, or as Woody would say, the showstoppers, of his collection, drawings he finds irresistible for their direct sensuous appeal and sheer fantasy of invention, whether on mythological, religious, or secular themes. The smaller drawing in Figure 12 (which Brock has just acquired), a rehearsal for one of the larger sheets from the New Testament series, is a symbolic meditation of Christ’s sacrifice and the meaning of the Eucharist. Hovering on clouds above the altar, Christ, kneeling before God the Father and crowned with thorns, holds aloft, like a priest officiating at Mass, the chalice of wine and the wafer symbolic of his body and blood. The dove of the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity, glides above and the cross looms behind. The whole is executed with a nervous and spontaneous touch that contrasts sharply with the more controlled execution of the larger sheets on this theme from the New Testament series (Bibliothèque Municipale de Rouen, France).

Yet another Tiepolo pen and wash drawing shows two monkeys, one seated grooming itself while the other, frowning, looks on (Fig. 7). At the bottom is an architectural fragment, a molding or pedestal. This is one of several drawings with lively sculptural groupings of animals associated with architectural details that appear to have served as models for painted decorations in the Tiepolo family villa at Zianigo near Venice.

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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