PIAZZETTA, Giovanni Battista
(b. 1682, Venezia, d. 1754, Venezia)
Martyrdom of St James1722
Oil on canvas, 165 x 138 cm
San Stae, Venice
To the testament of Andrea Stazio, a Venetian nobleman who died in 1722, we owe a cycle of paintings of great importance in the history of Venetian art. The will provided that twelve canvases should be painted for the church of San Stae (Venetian for St Eustace). All similar in size, they depict episodes in the lives of the Apostles and their martyrdom. The commission was given to twelve different Venetian painter, ranging from the aged Nicolò Bambini, then seventy-one, through to Giambattista Tiepolo, almost at the start of his career.
All the paintings were completed within a few months, in 1722 and early 1723. The artists were the following in alphabetic order: Antonio Balestra, Nicolò Bambini, Gregorio Lazzarini, Silvestro Manaigo, Giambattista Mariotti, Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, Giambattista Piazzetta, Giambattista Pittoni, Sebastiano Ricci, Giambattista Tiepolo, Angelo Trevisano and Pietro Uberti. They vied with each other to transform the church into a remarkable showcase of currents and developments in eighteenth-century Venetian art.
Piazzetta's Martyrdom of St James is part of the cycle of the Apostles which as a 'collective exhibition' fortunately remained intact in the choir of the Baroque church San Stae, giving an outline of Venetian painting of the period.
The small, light-suffused head of the rider emerging from the deep shadows in the foreground only just manages to soften the tension created by the contrast between the ruffian's brutality and the obstinate determination of the apostle, guided and illuminated by his faith.