The Glory of Saint Eusebius, c. 1757
Anton Raphael Mengs
oil on canvas
153.4 x 70 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 42295)
Photo © NGC
In 1757 Mengs was commissioned to paint the ceiling of the nave of Sant’Eusebio, Rome. It would be his first monumental work in the city and his first fresco. This, his final sketch for the ceiling, is very close to the finished work, since damaged. Eusebius was martyred for his defence of the orthodox definition of the Trinity, faintly visible as the triangle at the top of the canvas. The putti hold the attributes of the saint: a chalice and a heavy chain, the latter referring to his imprisonment and death in captivity.
Winckelmann, scholar of antique art and champion of classicism, praised the artist, but Mengs’ reputation soon fell. Compared with that of the Neoclassicism of later artists such as J.-L. David, Mengs’ work appears traditional and only recently has it regained critical favour. Mengs’ art was both novel and conventional: "The Glory" adapts 17th-century models to a new sensibility favouring restraint. Its palette is colder than normal, the composition restrained and clear, and the iconography simple.