This painting is a sketch, or modello, for a larger commission realised in the Ospedale della Pace (Hospital of Peace) in Naples, in 1764. The canvas shows Saint John of God in his Franciscan clothes, ascending into Heaven on rose-coloured solid clouds surrounded by an angel, cherubins, or putti, and Saint Michael, to his right, carrying the nimbus, or halo of sainthood. The foreground is populated by contemporaries’ witnesses, and a friar, on the left, who is pointing the holy figure to a dying naked man lying on the steps of a classical architecture. This is probably an illusion to the story of when John was assisted by an angel to carry a dying beggar to hospital.
The subject of this celebration is a Portuguese saint who lived in the first half of the fifteenth century and later became a Franciscan, reviving the traditional Christian duty of service to the community in a very personal way. He settled in Granada, Spain, where he founded a hospital and an order of hospitallers named “the Brothers of Saint John of God” after he was so called by the Archbishop of Granada. According to the story, after working as a shepherd and a soldier, John was inspired to take up the religious life after listening to a sermon by Saint John of Avila, but it was only a vision of him praying to the Virgin, with Jesus descended and placed a crown of thorns on his head that convinced him to dedicate himself to the poor and sick.
Giacinto Diana belonged to the generation of Neapolitan painters who succeeded Luca Giordano, and he worked with the artist Francesco de Mura, assisting him in painting ceiling decorations in several churches in Naples. In the 1760s, when he painted this piece, his style was still bound to the observance of his master's modules, marked by a linear grace and formal elegance. Both these aspects, blended harmoniously, allowed Diana to achieve a compromise between local experience and the most recent innovations in a neoclassical key. Baroque echoes are also legible in the clear ranges of colour, which produce a pleasant pictorial effect and a serene atmosphere, in compliance with the commission’s imperative requirements of grace and devotion.
Giacinto Diana The Reception of Saint John of God into Heaven About 1764 © Compton Verney