Saint Thecla Praying for the Plague-Stricken

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo Italian

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 643

Tiepolo made this oil sketch in preparation for a monumental altarpiece in the cathedral at Este, in northeastern Italy, that commemorates a devastating plague in 1630. Saint Thecla prays to God, who appears in the heavens, on behalf of the city seen in the background. The figure at right covering his mouth against the stench and about to remove a mother’s body is based on works by Raphael and Nicolas Poussin, but Tiepolo depicts him as a man of African descent in a manner consistent with historical evidence. The dangerous task of handling plague‑stricken bodies was often forced on freed or enslaved African and Turkish men. Tiepolo omitted this figure in the final painting.

Saint Thecla Praying for the Plague-Stricken, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Italian, Venice 1696–1770 Madrid), Oil on canvas

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