Tiepolo, G.B. | Saints Catherine of Siena, Rose of Lima and Agnes of Montepulciano holding the Christ Child

Saints Catherine of Siena, Rose of Lima and Agnes of Montepulciano holding the Christ Child



270 x 162 mm

This dramatic study is for Giovanni Battista Tiepolo's arguably most famous altarpiece in Venice, painted in the 1740s for the Dominican Church of the Gesuati on the Zattere. Widely published but thought to be lost, it once belonged to Prince Alexis Orloff's legendary album of Tiepolo drawings dispersed at auction in Paris in 1920. 

Recently sold to a distinguished European collection


Probably Grigory Vladimirovich Orloff (1777–1826), by descent to

Prince Alexis Nikolayevich Orloff (1867–1916), Paris; his sale, Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, 30th April 1920, lot 128, illustrated; purchased for FF 2,200 by 

M. Knoedler & Co., New York

P. & D. Colnaghi, London, 1938

Private collection, Switzerland



D. Freiherr von Hadeln, Die Handzeichnungen von G. B. Tiepolo, Leipzig, 1927, vol. I, pp. 10, 28, pl. 38

G. Vigni, Disegni del Tiepolo, Trieste, 1942, p. 53, under cat. no. 138

T. Pignatti, ‘Tiepolo disegnatore e incisore,’ La Fiera Letteraria, 1951, III, pp. 3-4, under no. 24

G. Knox, Catalogue of the Tiepolo Drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1960, pp. 19, 39

G. Knox, ‘The Orloff Album of Tiepolo Drawings,’ in The Burlington Magazine, vol. 103, no. 699, June 1961, pp. 273, 275, cat. no. 52

G. Vigni, Disegni del Tiepolo, Trieste, 1972, pp. 81-83, under cat. no. 152

T. Pignatti, ‘La nuova edizione del volume del Vigni sui disegni del Tiepolo a Trieste (review),’ Arte Veneta, vol. XXVII, p. 333

T. Pignatti, Tiepolo. Disegni scelti e annotati, Florence, 1974, under cat. no. XXXVIII

A. Rizzi, Giambattista Tiepolo. Disegni dai Civici Musei di Stori e Arte di Trieste, exhibition catalogue, Civici Musei di Storia e Arte di Trieste, Trieste, 1988-89, p. 164, under cat. no. 63

K. Christiansen (ed.), Giambattista Tiepolo 1696-1770, exhibition catalogue, Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1996-97, pp. 222-24, under cat. no. 35, fig. 75 (as location unknown; cat. entry by C. Whistler)

A. Niero, Tre artisti per un tempio. Santa Maria del Rosario – Gesuati, Venezia, Venice, 2006, p. 111



Chicago, The Art Institute, Paintings, Drawings and Prints by the Two Tiepolos. Giambattista and Giandomenico, 1938, cat. no. 49, illustrated (lent by P. & D. Colnaghi, London; cat. by D. Catton Rich)

In his 1961 article on the Tiepolo drawings from the celebrated album once owned by Prince Alexis Orloff, George Knox captured the essence of the present sheet – not seen in public for over eighty years – thus:


‘Pride of place among the drawings of the 1740s belongs to the extremely fine study for the Gesuati altar-piece, SS. Rose of Lima, Catharine of Siena and Agnes of Montepulciano [Fig. 1]. Although Tiepolo had the commission for this painting by I740, the work does not seem to have started before 1746, and was completed in I748. The style of this drawing and the sheet at Trieste [figs. 2-3] seem completely consistent with the date 1746, and shows the original conception to have been much more simple than the final design. In the drawing, the light (carrying with it the suggestion of religious glory) pours into the shallow dark niche from the body of the church; in this way a close continuity is established between the real and the pictorial world, as also it is in the decorations of the Ca’ Labia, which are roughly contemporary. The need to change the design into a more imposing piece of rococo decoration frustrated this intention, and the painting itself, though Giambattista’s most magnificent performance in this genre, still betrays signs of the strains and contradictions which the alterations involved.’[1]


In 1737, Tiepolo received the commission for the ceiling fresco in the recently completed Dominican church of the Gesuati in on the Giudecca Canal in the Dorsoduro district of Venice. Depicting the Institution of the Rosary, it was finished by October 1739. By 1740 at the latest Tiepolo was further commissioned the first altarpiece on the right when entering the church, dedicated to three Dominican female Saints: Catherine of Siena, Rosa of Lima and Agnes of Montepulciano. The painting was to be of the same size and with an arched top as other recently completed altarpieces. Facing Tiepolo’s painting (the first altar on the left when entering the church) was Sebastiano Ricci’s last major work, painted in 1732-33, depicting The Dominican Pope Pius V accompanied by Saints Thomas Aquinas and Peter Martyr. The third chapel on the right aisle housed the masterpiece of the third hero of Venetian eighteenth-century painting, Giovanni Battista Piazzetta’s portrayal of the Three Dominican Saints Vincent Ferrer, Hyacinth and Louis Bertrand, finished in 1738. As Knox stated, Tiepolo’s painting was not completed before April 1748 and installed the following year.


The present drawing reveals that Tiepolo planned to depict initially only the three female saints in a niche, but not the Virgin. A looser, double-sided sketch in the Civici Musei at Trieste, and almost certainly made subsequently, offers two alternative arrangements of the figures.[2] In our drawing, Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), the great medieval mystic and writer, stands at left, wearing a crown of thorns and holding a Crucifix in her right hand. Next to her, her arms raised ecstatically, is Saint Rose of Lima (1586-1617), the first Catholic nun from the Americas to be canonized, in 1671. Agnes of Montepulciano (1268-1317), medieval prioress in Tuscany and of great influence on Catherine of Siena, sits at right holding the Christ Child; she was canonised only in 1726. In the painting, Tiepolo retained the general disposition of the figures from the Orloff drawing, but let Saint Rose hold the Christ Child, no doubt to present Him more prominently in the centre. The fact that Ricci and Piazzetta’s paintings have large figures in the upper registers possibly swayed Tiepolo to adopt a similar solution. This is suggested by the recto of the Trieste sheet, which features an angel above the saints. It was therefore most likely made after the Orloff drawing. Eventually, Tiepolo added the more powerful image of the Madonna, solemnly hovering above the saints, instead of a more generic angel. This solution resolved the problem of a large empty space in the upper part due to the tall format of the altarpiece. Furthermore, had Tiepolo followed the Orloff drawing more closely in the painting, the figures would have been much larger in relation to those in Ricci and Piazzetta’s paintings, which, as Knox suggested above, may have been viewed as unsatisfactory. And while Knox considered the painting Tiepolo’s ‘most magnificent performance in this genre,’ what makes the Orloff drawing stand out is the highly dramatic distribution of the light achieved by the combination of free and searching pen lines defining the figures and bold, broadly applied washes, which lend the otherwise simple arrangement of the figures an intensely moving effect. That powerful effect in the drawing eventually gave way to the perhaps more elegant, and less dramatic, composition of the painting.[3]


The album formerly belonging to Prince Alexis Orloff is arguably the grandest of all the Tiepolo albums, and to this day remains somewhat shrouded in mystery. Containing ninety-six drawings mostly by Battista and some by Domenico, it is particularly important for the significant group of early, and relatively early drawings by Battista, including the present one, and for many large and complete sheets of extraordinary beauty that were clearly made as independent works of art. The early provenance of the album is unknown. The Paris sale catalogue of 1920, which reproduces each drawing, remains the only document to date. The album was almost certainly not one of the nine albums Edward Cheney of Badger Hall, Shropshire, had acquired in Venice by 1842 and which were dispersed at the sale of his collection in London in 1885.[4] While it is not entirely impossible that Orloff, a Russian general and attaché at the embassy in Paris from 1894, bought the album himself, Knox suspected that it was an earlier Orloff, Grigory Vladimirovich (1777–1826), who acquired it in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. Grigory Vladimirovich Orloff was a scholar who had lived in Italy and published several works on Italian art and music. The Orloff sale in Paris attracted many of the major buyers at the time, as Jim Byam Shaw noted, including Mme. A. Doucet, Marius Paulme, Paul Wallraf, the Vicomte Bernard d’Hendecourt and the art dealers M. Knoedler & Co. of New York, who purchased our sheet at the sale, and P. & D. Colnaghi of London, all of whom ‘paid what were then high prices, two or three hundred pounds sometimes for a single splendid example. Never, certainly, so much as a thousand; but yet, I suppose, it was the turning point in the market for Tiepolo’s drawings.’[5] It remains unclear if M. Knoedler & Co. sold the present drawing to P. & D. Colnaghi, – they may well have purchased it together at the Orloff sale – or if there was a different owner in the meantime – but Colnaghi were the lenders of record to the major Tiepolo exhibition held in Chicago in 1938, which included a total of ten drawings from the Orloff album.



[1] Knox, op. cit., p. 273.

[2] Inv. 1997 a-b; pen and grey ink, 455 x 302 mm; see Rizzi, op. cit., cat. no. 63, illustrated. The recto shows all three saints standing (Catherine on the right), with an angel above, while on the verso the standing saint in the middle holding the child is flanked by two saints which appear to be kneeling or bending forward.

[3] For a recent discussion of Tiepolo’s altarpiece, see C. Whistler’s entry in K. Christiansen (ed.), op. cit., cat. no. 35, illustrated.

[4] For a history of the Tiepolo albums, see Knox, op. cit., 1960, pp. 3-9.

[5] J. Byam Shaw, ‘The Biron Collection of Venetian Eighteenth-Century Drawings at the Metropolitan Museum,’ in Metropolitan Museum Journal, vol. 3, 1970, p. 236.