Tiepolo painted to make an impact – his works are monumental, dramatic and possess immense colouristic force. His wall paintings and large scale canvases for villas, palaces and churches often served prestige purposes and were meant to underscore their patrons’ social status.
He executed this composition for Giovanni Antonio Crotta, whose wish was to use this painting to increase his renown among the patricians of Venice – where his family had moved from the provincial town of Bergamo. The scene depicts a family legend going back more than a thousand years. According to that story, St. Grata was among the Crottas’ ancestors. Accompanied by the martyrs Fermus and Rusticus, she calls upon her heathen parents to convert them to Christianity. She presents her father with the head of St. Alexander, which has been chopped off at his command. Instead of blood, it miraculously sprouts flowers. At this sight, the old man is convinced and Christianity is introduced in Bergamo. Tiepolo staged this family tale like a Biblical event, in a splendid, antique-style architectural setting against which the figures’ radiant robes are set off to wonderful effect. The Crottas’ social ambitions will hardly impress anyone today. What indubitably remains, however, is the admiration for Tiepolo’s masterful painting.