Giambattista Piazzetta played a leading role in 18th-century Venetian painting, which was mainly oriented towards bright, luminous tones and a joy of representation which originated mainly from the works of the great Veronese. It was he who, more than anyone, took up the heritage of the 17th century, adopting its use of strong contrasts of light, with brownish tones flushing his scenes — mostly of a religious nature — with dramatic impetuosity.
This fine image of Christ crucified between the two robbers is an excellent example of his work. It became part of the Venetian museum’s collection in 1905, when it was purchased from Sebastiano Candiani, the antique dealer. The Rubens model on which the representation is based has been transformed into complacent virtuosity in the twisting bodies, rendered with particular care for the description of each individual element of Giambattista’s habitual anatomies. Overall, it is an image of overpowering dramatic intensity, enhanced by a powerfully contrasted play of light and shadow which is intensely felt in the youthful work of Piazzetta. This is why the painting is normally dated around 1710. The imagery of the painting is particularly interesting, both in terms of the figures of the robbers, which inspired Tiepolo when he painted his Crucifixion in 1723–25 for the church of San Martino in Burano, and in terms of the Christ, portrayed with his arms held up in the Northern tradition. This was taken up again in Venice by the 17th-century Langetti in his canvas for the church of the Terese, now in Ca’ Rezzonico.