Tessa Nicholson - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Tessa Nicholson

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Tessa Nicholson

PhD student

Thesis Title: The Stuff that Dreams are Made on: The Mythological Works of Giulio Carpioni

Supervisor: Dr Sheila McTighe 

My research examines the secular works of the 17thcentury Venetian painter Giulio Carpioni, who worked principally in Vicenza, a city in the Venetian terrafirma.   These works link Carpioni to a Venetian tradition begun in the early 16thcentury by Giorgione, the painting of “mythological” scenes of often obscure origin.  Carpioni’s mythological works were praised by his near contemporaries for their striking originality, as ‘perfect conceptions, the most attractive caprices and fantasies that a painter, inclined to work on a small scale, has ever conceived’.  This originality was founded in the artist’s exemplary invenzione, a quality seen by seicento contemporaries as transcending both disegno and colorito, and highly valued.  Using the works of Carpioni, I am exploring the evolution of the idea of invenzione and its relationship to the particular patronage imperatives in Vicenza and Venice in the seicento

In addition, I am working to understand how Carpioni and other Italian artists of the seicento used the works of Ovid, and other classical authors, in ways different to Renaissance artists.  The elasticity in the mythological sources allowed Carpioni and his patrons to make new and varied interpretations, consistent with ideas current in Vicenza, Venice, and in seicento Rome.  As Leonard Barkan has said ‘myth is of itself other’, allowing of many possibilities in interpretation and depiction:  there are no “rules”.   Carpioni and many other artists take Ovid’s Metamorphoses as their key source, but the text is only a starting point artistically. The resulting works are rarely literal depictions of myth but instead depict “transformation” as a beginning point rather than a closed completion, enabling the works to hold within them the possibilities of opposing outcomes, ideas, and themes simultaneously and in tension.


BA Harvard University Economics and East Asian Studies
MA SOAS London University Asian Studies
PGDip The Courtauld Institute of Art
MA The Courtauld Institute of Art

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