TIEPOLO, Giovanni Battista
(b. 1696, Venezia, d. 1770, Madrid)

Discovery of the True Cross

c. 1745
Oil on canvas, diameter: 490 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

According to legend, St Helen, the mother of Constantine the Great, discovered the True Cross on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Tiepolo portrays the saint, in daring foreshortening from below, making a triumphal gesture in front of the Cross, which towers up into the sky. She is surrounded by the usual retinue of soldiers, holy men, the old and the young, women and children, commonly used by Tiepolo as extras in his paintings. A number of angels hover over the scene, carrying a thurible and a tablet bearing the name of Christ, looking down on the miracle of the discovery of the cross.

This grandiose tondo, originally the centrepiece of the ceiling decorated by Girolamo Mengozzi Colonna in the Capuchin church in Castello, is a typical example of Tiepolo's ability to translate any theme, sacred or profane into a stupendous Baroque magniloquence. Within the monumental order the areas of colour are arranged in patterns of polychromatic splendour, suffused with a pure light which highlights every carefully observed detail. In this remarkable example of illusionistic perspective, with which Tiepolo never tired of amazing his contemporaries, the images are characterized by distinct notes of colours and emotion with a fascinating musical decorative freshness.

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