While exposing her breast to the thrust of the dagger that will kill her, Saint Lucy turns her head to accept communion from a priest. This unconventional addition of the sacrament to the scene of Lucy's martyrdom is a reminder of the Counter-Reformation climate that shadowed Veronese's career. Twice, the artist had defended himself against allegations of impropriety in his treatment of religious subjects.
Sketchily rendered in the background is a team of oxen; these are the beasts who had failed to drag the chaste Lucy -- made miraculously immobile -- to the brothel where she had been condemned for her Christian faith. A glimpse of fire behind Lucy alludes to another failed attempt to martyr this third-century saint.
Veronese's own Venice, and not Lucy's ancient Syracuse, is made the backdrop to this scene. A brilliant decorator, Veronese was celebrated for his sumptuous histories and mythologies which he translated into opulent present-day surroundings and dress. If the artist was best known for the sparkling blond harmonies of his mature work, the Martyrdom of Saint Lucy is a masterpiece of his late style and reveals a different aspect of his temperament. Here, cast in evening light, the colors have deepened and acquired a muted glow.
Marks and Labels
Conte Teodoro Lechi, Brescia, Italy, by 1814 (no. 49 in 1814 inventory). Anonymous collection or dealer, Venice; sold 1827 to James Irvine, London and Rome; by whom sold 1827 to Sir William Forbes, 7th Bt. [d.1848], Fettercairn, Grampian, Scotland; (Forbes sale, London 2 June 1842, no. 30, not sold); by inheritance to Sir John Stuart Forbes, 8th Bt.[d. 1866], Pitsligo, Grampian and Fettercairn, Grampian, Scotland; by inheritance to his daughter Harriet Williamina Forbes Trefusis, Baroness Clinton [d.1869], Heanton Satchville, Dorset, England and Fettercairn, Grampian, Scotland; by inheritance [either directly from his mother or through his father, 20th Baron Clinton, who died 1904] to Charles John Robert Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis, 21st Baron Clinton, Heanton Satchville, Dorset, England and Fettercairn, Grampian, Scotland; by inheritance to his daughter Fenella Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis [Mrs. John Herbert Bowes-Lyon, Fettercairn, Grampian, Scotland; by gift to her daughter Diana Cinderella Bowes-Lyon [Mrs. Peter Somervell]; (Somervell sale, Christie's, London, 25 June 1971, no. 23); purchased by Eisenbeiss. Anonymous collection, Germany; (sale, Christie's, London, 10 April 1981, no. 78); (Matthiesen Fine Art, Ltd., London); sold 1984 to the National Gallery of Art).
- The Art of Paolo Veronese, 1528-1588, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988-1989, no. 97, repro.
- The Age of Titian: Venetian Renaissance Art from Scottish Collections, Royal Scottish Academy Building, Edinburgh, 2004, no. 71, repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 423, repro.
- Brown, Beverly Louise. "Replication and the Art of Veronese." Studies in the History of Art 20 (1989):111-124, repro.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 105, repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 99, no. 76, color repro.
- Harris, Neil. Capital Culture: J. Carter Brown, the National Gallery of Art, and the Reinvention of the Museum Experience. Chicago and London, 2013: 422.