Giovan Battista Tiepolo
(Venice 1696 – Madrid 1770)

The Sacrifice of Isaac

ca. 1719 – oil on canvas, cm 220 x 364

Eighteenth-century sources tell us that a nineteen-year-old Giovan Battista Tiepolo worked at The Sacrifice of Isaac in the church of Santa Maria dei Derelitti (commonly known as the church dell’Ospedaletto).

For this painting Tiepolo abandoned the traditional iconography and created an original composition to fit the specific shape of the canvas that was to be placed on a spandrel. This is why the figure of Abraham – who, as requested by God, is about to kill his son – and that of the young Isaac seem to be almost crawling on their sides with their heads very close, and with the angel surrounded by the divine light suddenly entering the scene to stop the sacrifice.

In this juvenile work, Tiepolo – somewhat still tied to tenebrism – manages to display his secure handling of figuration and compositional rhythm regardless of the canvas size.