Giovan Battista Tiepolo
(Venice 1696 – Madrid 1770)
Thomas the Apostle – John the Apostle
ca. 1716 – oil on canvas, cm 260 x 240
Vincenzo Da Canal, Gregorio Lazzarini’s biographer, documented in 1732 a public commission – Tiepolo’s first – that was executed around 1716: “a canvas painting with Apostles Thomas and John in the Venetian church of Santa Maria dei Derelitti (Ospedaletto) in the first spandrel on the left”.
In the left half of the canvas, we recognise Saint Thomas with a spear in his hand, while Saint John is portrayed in the right half with his iconographical attributes, that is, snakes rising from the poisoned cup. The saint holds a book inscribed with the letters “TP”, for Tiepolo pinxit.
In order to make them fit into such irregular and constricted space, the figures are portrayed from a lowered perspective – in some parts their features are barely sketched, while their anatomies adapt to the limited space.
It was while completing this prestigious commission and painting high up on the scaffolding that Tiepolo met and fell in love with Cecilia Guardi, a girl member of the Ospedale dei Derelitti choir (putta di coro). Challenging the strict rules of the charitable institution, Cecilia fled with the young artist who, knowing that both families would oppose their wedding, then wrote a letter to the patriarch begging for his blessing. Cecilia and Giovan Battista were secretly married in 1719.