Tiepolo in Venice
“Rancid” was once a popular word
but now nobody’s using it.
I think of the word, though,
when looking at Tiepolo’s Venice.
His topsy-turvy boy angel brats
and moussed-up Marys
are ultimate and disheveled,
unbelievable in their heaven
of kindly blue and milkshake bouffant.
I see saintly mess everywhere
in this Venice—
in the Madonna’s sleek red Dior dress
when she holds out her rosary
in a Seventh Avenue taxi-grabbing gesture;
in Giovanni Battista’s nymphs who float
in their own field of fat,
stressed out by dimples;
in the death of someone famous
in a vulgarian game of tennis
(his abalone halo has come off).
Such bulbous forearms
jabbing the righteous wreckage
when Tiepolo’s Rome was torn—
as we all know, anyone is willing
to blacken your image.
So why fuss over it?
Let them do it:
a bimbo from down the canal
anti-Rococo and full to the brim,
toying with her sweet skeins of self.
Or let it be done
by Saint James of Campostella,
his face needing liposuction
as he “converts” a “Moor” to “Christianity”
with one dismissive rap of the baton
while his eyes are utterly elsewhere.
So many proudly martyred women
were hoisted on clouds by the painter,
their stigmata subtly evasive.
And his clouds are always furious,
can you tell me why?
They look like bodies let go of,
too noble for our theater
The flesh-fests of Tiepolo
seem like para-military
feints played in the mud,
“Apollo and the Four Continents.”
Still, we can’t hope to understand
what the holy had to face, then.
When you squint up at the bleary
northwest corner of the fresco,
something rancid shifts and swings.
One can almost overhear the riggings
of the clouds groan and creak.
Past the sluggish marsh and inlet,
spawning saints careen.
Their cartoon plans dismay
all us “Sons of Man”—
their flanks are so slippery,
And so the big masts rise
from a nicked Italian harbor
as the schools and schools of painters
flick, slide, redeem.
The backroom assistants strut their stuff
on slow afternoons,
with stiff old brushes, plenty of gesso,
Patsy Cline on the radio,
and praise of Venice streaming.