Description & Technical information

Previously unknown to scholars and only recently discovered in a French private collection, this large and powerful drawing of Saint Peter Healing the Paralytic of Lydda is a new and striking addition to Domenico Tiepolo’s ‘Large Biblical Series’.

The subject is taken from the Acts of the Apostles, and depicts Saint Peter healing Aeneas, who had been paralyzed for eight years, in the town of Lydda (now known as Lod) in Palestine: ‘And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda. And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy. And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately. And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.’ (9: 32-35)

Saint Peter plays a crucial role in many of the drawings of the ‘Large Biblical Series’. Furthermore, just over ten percent of the drawings of the series are devoted to the Acts of Saint Peter, the first vicar of the new church of Christianity. Some thirty-five drawings, including the present sheet, are devoted to episodes from the life and ministry of the saint. As Adelheid Gealt notes, ‘As founder of the Church, first Pope, and lead disciple, Peter has generally received special attention from artists. Domenico, however, went far beyond tradition with his interest in this saint, using his characteristics to offer new insights into the Gospel accounts. His development of Peter’s story is one of Domenico’s most original contributions to this epic...Peter’s own ministry is interpreted far beyond the scope of a single text or picture cycle. Selecting stories from various commentaries beyond those found in The Golden Legend, Domenico has presented a visual exegesis on Peter’s official role in the development of the early Church and as the first Pope.’

While most, but not all, of the three hundred and twenty known drawings from the ‘Large Biblical Series’ are signed by the artist, they are unnumbered and untitled. A few drawings, however, have long inscriptions, notably those - like the present sheet – which depict the Acts of Saint Peter. These inscriptions are always in Italian, and it has been suggested that, throughout the development of the ‘Large Biblical Series’, Domenico referred to a recent translation of the New Testament into vernacular Italian, probably that published in Turin in 1769 by Antonio Martini.

As he did with a handful of Biblical episodes that inspired him, Domenico created a second version of this subject as part of the ‘Large Biblical Series’; a drawing which is today in a private collection in New York. That drawing, although set in a similar room with brick walls, is completely different in composition. In both drawings Saint Peter stands, surrounded by astonished onlookers, before the paralytic Aeneas. In the New York drawing, however, the saint stands at the right, gesturing to the cripple rising from his bed at the left. With visibly withered legs, the man struggles to stand upright, while a prominent sign on the wall in the centre of the composition describes the scene depicted in bold letters, noting that Aeneas had been bedridden for eight years: ‘NELLA CITTA DI / LIDA / RISANO S PIETRO UN / PARALTICO, CHE ERA OTTO / ANNI CHE NON SI ERA / LEVATO DI LETTO.'

The present sheet appears to depict a slightly later point in the story of the same miracle, with the cripple now kneeling before the saint in prayer. As Gealt has described the composition of this drawing, ‘In this version, which takes place in a similar room, Domenico has changed the vantage point. Peter stands at the left...The room is much taller and now features a chimney as well as an oval window, suggesting the door seen in [the New York drawing] is now behind us. Domenico still took care to inscribe the drawing with its subject (something he rarely did in his series) but the inscription is far less dramatic, and notes only that Peter met a paralytic in Lydda. This version which arguably makes up a sequel to [the New York drawing], places a different emphasis [on] the process of healing. Here Peter points heavenward, reminding us that Peter had invoked his cure in the name of Jesus Christ. Aeneas, the palsied man, has already left his bed which looks neatly made (as per Peter’s instructions), and, his legs fully restored, kneels before Peter in prayerful gratitude. The room is crowded with people suggesting that ‘all of Lydda and Saron’ who converted to Christianity as a result of this miracle, were present in the room to see it. Indeed, converts evident at the far right have adopted various attitudes of prayer. The presence of onlookers, including the man with the dark coat and hat seen from the back, places further emphasis on the phenomenon of witnessing.’

The subject of Saint Peter healing Aeneas at Lydda is quite rare in Italian art, and it is characteristic of Domenico’s creativity as a draughtsman that he saw fit to treat it twice, and in very different and inventive ways. It should be noted, however, that the repetition of a particular Biblical episode, with differing compositions, occurs in several of the drawings from the ‘Large Biblical Series’, notably in scenes from the Passion of Christ or the Stations of the Cross.

In his pioneering book on the drawings of Domenico Tiepolo, published in 1962, James Byam Shaw opined that, ‘it is with the pen and brush, in the second half of his career, that Domenico develops his most characteristic style. It is then that his compositions – in the large Biblical series particularly – become much more pictorial than his father’s, for all the freedom and looseness of his pen work; and it is his peculiar use of the wash, brown or grey or both combined, which contributes most to this effect. These were album-drawings, finished to a margin-line, such as his father seldom produced...Such drawings were intended no doubt for the collector’s portfolio, but many others he kept for his own use.’ And, as the Tiepolo scholar George Knox has written, ‘Compared with his father, a brilliant court-painter of European renown, Domenico is obviously a far more modest figure, a local artist, a man of his own time and place, a Venetian Daumier perhaps...Above all things he was a religious artist, perhaps the most deeply religious painter of the eighteenth century, with a passionate create a new and vital contemporary religious idiom.’

Period:  1750-1850, 18th century
Origin:  Italy
Medium: Pen, Brown ink, Brown wash, Black chalk
Signature: Signed Dom.o Tiepolo f. at the lower left and inscribed nella citta di Lida visano il Paralitico / S. Piero at the lower right. Further inscribed Guerison par Pierre du paralytique Enée a Lyda in pencil on the verso.

Dimensions: 48.5 x 38.1 cm (19¹/₈ x 15 inches)
Provenance: Among the contents of the artist’s studio in Venice at the time of his death, and by descent to his wife, Margherita Moscheni, Venice
Dispersed on the Venetian art market in the first half of the 19th century
Victor Luzarche, Tours, until 1868
Camille Rogier, Paris
Roger Cormier, Tours
His sale, Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, 30 April 1921, lot 61 (‘Saint Pierre opérant une guérison miraculeuse. Plume et lavis de bistre. Signé à gauche, en bas. Haut,. 46 cent.; larg., 36 cent.’)
Bought at the sale by a private collector, and thence by descent to a private collection, France.

Literature: Adelheid M. Gealt and George Knox, Domenico Tiepolo: A New Testament, Bloomington, 2006, p.574, no.243 (not illustrated).

Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints