Saint Maximus and Saint Oswald, ca. 1740–45
Giovanni Battista (Giambattista) Tiepolo (Italy, 1696–1770)
Oil on canvas
23 x 14 1/2 inches
Gift of Ellnora D. Krannert 1965-16-3
This small painting resembles six other oil sketches by Giambattista Tiepolo, the content and purpose of which are unclear. An example in the Kunsthaus Zürich, also depicting saints Maximus and Oswald, is likely the modello, or oil sketch, for a canvas in the main chapel of Santi Massimo e Osvaldo in Padua. The others include figures in similar poses under a vault supported by semicircular arches on piers. As in the museum's painting, the figures' attributes are insufficient to identify them with certainty, and they may be other saints. All the paintings in this group may be related to large-scale works now lost or destroyed.
Tiepolo and his workshop produced numerous painted sketches (bozzetti) that served a variety of purposes. Modelli were used to propose ideas to patrons, while ricordi documented complete projects. Krannert Art Museum's canvas is probably a replica of a painting at the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo, and may have been produced to meet the growing market for preliminary sketches; the painting is more detailed, particularly in the faces and garments, than modelli customarily were at the time. Several additions to the painting appear to have been made after it left Tiepolo's studio, perhaps to provide color incident. These include the keystone, the gold borders of the courtier's cape, the embroidery on the bishop's cope, and the red cord holding the chandelier, which is mistakenly shown rising to the top of the arch instead of the vault. Thin brown contour lines have been added around many motifs to provide greater definition. Some aspects—for example, the uncertain handling of the courtier's face—suggest that much of the original painting is the work of Tiepolo's assistants. Yet the overall composition, the dramatic poses, and the faces of the saints either come directly from or closely follow the hand of the master.
Text by David O'Brien, from Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works, 2008