Changing artistic taste in the second half of the 1780s prompted by the emergence of neoclassicism
brought Domenico Tiepolo’s career as a painter to an end. From then on, he focused his energies on
drawings and produced three remarkable groups of large-scale, highly finished works: the
‘Punchinello’ drawings, the ‘Scenes of Contemporary Life’ and a group known as ‘Large Biblical
Series’. The present magnificent sheet belongs to this last group that illustrates the lives of Christ
and the Apostles, based on the New Testament and a few apocryphal episodes. These drawings represented
a project of huge dimensions. Currently more than three hundred and thirteen are recorded.
The drawings were not intended as preliminary studies for paintings or etchings but as finished works
of art in their own right. An album containing one hundred and thirty eight of these drawings, now
known as the Recueil Fayet, was bequeathed to the Louvre in 1889. Another group of eighty-two
drawings, once in the collection of Roger Cormier in Tours, was sold at auction in Paris in 1921.
The present drawing is entitled The Agony in the Garden. Previously unrecorded, it represents one of the
latest, striking additions to the ‘Large Biblical Series’. The composition is organized in three separate
planes, heightening the narrative urgency of this episode in the Passion. Domenico Tiepolo depicts
Judas leading the soldiers to Christ’s place of prayer beside the disciples sleeping in the garden. His
virtuoso use of brown washes creates powerfully contrasting highlights of untouched paper that
illuminate the figure of the angel with a chalice and the central group around the figure of Christ.
The brilliance of the highlights intensifies the dramatic momentum of events. The robed figure of
Judas, the weight of the centurion’s arm on his shoulder in the final betrayal, provides a powerful
compositional pivot. Giandomenico boldly conveys the drama of this Eucharistic moment in which
Christ is succoured by two angels while a third proffers a chalice. With masterly skill and
characteristic theatricality he succeeds in bringing together the moment of divine intervention and
the prosaic reality of Christ’s imminent fate, alluded to in the foreground. At the entrance to the
Garden of Olives, Judas’s finger indicates to the Roman soldiers where Christ is to be found.
In the sequence of events depicted in the ‘Large Biblical Series’, the present drawing can be placed
immediately after Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane: the Second Prayer – a drawing now in an American
private collection. In this latter sheet, Christ is depicted alone in prayer before the arrival of the
Roman soldiers. The present drawing is also of assistance in adding an important stage to the
sequence of events leading up to the drawing titled The Arrest of Christ in the Garden of Olives now in the
Louvre. In this drawing the Apostles are depicted at Christ’s side as Judas leads the Roman soldiers
into the garden.