Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1937 (37.165.2)

The Italian artist Giambattista Tiepolo sketched “Saint Thecla Saving a City from the Plague” as a study for the altarpiece of the cathedral of Este, Italy. About 20 miles south of Milan, Este was a prosperous city in the early 17th century until, in 1638, the plague devastated the town. In the mid-18th century, the town underwent an economic renaissance and built a new Duomo (cathedral). Commissioned to paint the altarpiece, Tiepolo depicted God descending from the clouds to scatter the plague demons in answer to Thecla’s prayers. At lower right, a child suckles at his dead mother’s breast.

The continuing popularity of Thecla throughout the history of the church may have been a reaction to the growing patriarchy of the church.