Saint Thecla Praying for the Plague-Stricken

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo Italian

Not on view

This oil sketch is for one of Tiepolo's greatest religious works, the monumental altarpiece in the apse of the cathedral at Este, near Padua. Commissioned in 1758 and installed on Christmas Day, 1759, the picture commemorated the devastating plague of 1630 with the citizens of Este praying for the intercession of Saint Thecla. The first-century saint is shown among the victims; the town is depicted in the background. The figure at right covering his mouth against the stench and about to remove the mother’s body is based on precedents by Raphael and Poussin, but Tiepolo departs from them in his suggestion of a man of African descent. The dangerous task of handling plague-stricken bodies was often forced on freed or enslaved African and Turkish men; Tiepolo chose against including this figure in his final composition.

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

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