Pietro Testa, Three Saints Imploring the Virgin, an etching

Italy, AD 1630-31

The Madonna and Child with saints

The towers of Lucca, Testa's home town in Tuscany, appear in the background of this print. Plague had struck Lucca in 1630, and returned with renewed virulence in the following summer. The three saints pleading with the Virgin and Child to intercede on behalf of the citizens, shown dead or dying in the foreground, were probably saints especially venerated in Lucca.

In 1629, the 18-year-old Testa (1611-50) had travelled to Rome, eager to forge a career as a painter. He joined the studio of the famous Bolognese artist Domenichino, and found employment drawing classical statuary for the 'Paper Museum' of the antiquary Cassiano dal Pozzo. In Pozzo's circle he met the artists and printmakers from whom he acquired the technical expertise and artistic sensibility, visible in this etching.

The composition gains grandeur and stability from the fluted pilaster behind the Madonna. This vertical axis is balanced by the horizontal of the stepped platform on which she stands, and the shadows on the ground. Drama comes from the diagonal thrust of the figures, who lunge forwards towards the distressed Christ Child, or fall backwards among the dead and the dying. Testa's skilful command of light and dark further clarifies the design, by separating one saint from another and the Madonna from her cloud, while allowing the infant angel that holds its nose against the stench of death, to peer outwards at the gruesome scene below.

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More information


E. Cropper, Pietro Testa, 1612-1650, print (Scolar Press, 1988)


Height: 271.000 mm
Width: 191.000 mm

Museum number

PD V10-136 (Bartsch XX, 13)



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