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IIIF Actions
Sir James Thornhill, 1675–1734
St. Paul before Agrippa
ca. 1710
Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas
32 1/4 x 29 1/4 inches (81.9 x 74.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
apostle | architecture | armor | Bible | book | Classical | columns | king (person) | men | Paul before Festus, King Agrippa and Queen Bernice | queen (person) | religious | religious and mythological subject | Roman | ruins | saint | shawls | soldiers | swords | trial | women
Associated People:
Berenice of Cilicia (28 AD – ?), Jewish client queen of the Roman Empire during the second half of the 1st century
Agrippa II (born AD 27/28), seventh and last king of the family of Herod the Great
Paul the Apostle (c. AD 5 – c. AD 67)
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

In 1709, the Commissioners for the Fabric of St. Paul’s announced a competition to paint the interior of the cathedral’s dome. Leading painters from the continent submitted designs, but the Englishman James Thornhill secured this prestigious commission in 1715. Thornhill was then considered Britain’s leading decorative painter, but many patrons, familiar with the sophistication of decorative painting abroad, favored other artists, especially Venetians. One London newspaper predicted that Thornhill would “put to Silence all the loud Applauses we have hitherto given to foreign Artists.” The rich colors used in this preparatory picture do not appear in the final murals; the commissioners decided that grisaille—a painted imitation of stone relief—would be more acceptable for a Protestant church.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016

The most important public commission available to any artist in the early eighteenth century was to decorate the interior dome of Sir Christopher Wren's new St. Paul's Cathedral. The competition was opened in 1709 and the principal entrants were the Italian Antonio Pelligrini (1675-1741) and Thornhill. The subject was to be from the Acts of the Apostles and this painting is one of Thornhill's preparatory paintings for his proposal, which was fittingly dedicated to the life of St. Paul. He was awarded the project in 1715-being a native Englishman and Protestant were strong marks in his favor-and the dome was completed by 1720. Thornhill originally conceived the series to be in full color as in this painting, but it was decided by the church commissioners that grisaille was a more suitable, and less Catholic, choice. The decoration of St. Paul's established Thornhill as the leading native-born history painter in Britain.

Gallery label for Connections (Yale Center for British Art, 2011-05-26 - 2011-09-11)

Connections (Yale Center for British Art, 2011-05-26 - 2011-09-11) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Apostles in England - Sir James Thornhill and the Legacy of Raphael's Tapestry Cartoons (Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, 1996-10-15 - 1996-12-21) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Malcolm Cormack, Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 222-223, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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