Cosimo Fancelli, from a family of stonemasons, sculpted the designs of key artists of the Italian baroque, including those of his friend, the Roman painter and architect Pietro da Cortona. Among Pietro's celebrated paintings are ceiling frescoes in the Barberini Palace, Rome, and the Pitti Palace, Florence. Smaller-scale sculptural works like this one, based on Pietro's design, reflect the same compositional balance and vitality.
This work depicts Martina, the Christian daughter of a Roman consul who died for her refusal to worship the pagan gods. The palm of martyrdom appears at her feet along with an iron hook, one of the instruments of her torture. The Roman building in the background may be the temple of Apollo struck by lightning when Martina made the sign of the cross. As the Virgin and Child appear to her on a cloud, the excitement of the encounter is echoed by the swirling drapery patterns and the windblown sweep of distant trees.
Pietro portrayed Saint Martina repeatedly after her remains were discovered in 1634 during reconstruction of the crypt in the church of the Academy of Saint Luke, which he was overseeing. In celebration, Pietro was commissioned to rebuild the entire church, renamed Saints Luke and Martina. He designed and collaborated with Fancelli on an alabaster and lapis lazuli relief version of the Martina image that still adorns the altar of her shrine in the crypt. This gilt bronze relief is among the best of the several other sculptural interpretations of the theme.
Purchased in Europe by (Philip Anthony Roth, London); purchased 8 February 1984 by NGA.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 300, repro.
- Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994: 173, repro.
- Zanuso, Susanna. "Scuola romana del XVII secolo, Sacra famiglia." In Di Lorenzo, Andrea, and Frangi, Francesco, eds. La raccolta Mario Scaglia: Dipinti e sculture, medaglie e placchette da Pisanello a Ceruti. Exh. cat. Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan, 2007: 142.