Few images of saints show women as gorgeously attired as Francisco de Zurbarán's. His Saint Lucy portrays the young martyr as a contemporary woman of Seville. Bejeweled and carefully coiffed, she presents her startling attribute, a pair of naturalistically painted eyeballs on a pewter dish.
Multiple versions of the legend of Saint Lucy, the daughter of an aristocratic family in fourth-century Syracuse, arose during the Counter-Reformation. One popular interpretation, inspired by her unusual attribute, maintained that Lucy, determined to dedicate her life to Christ, had plucked out her eyes and sent them to a tenacious suitor after he insisted that their beauty allowed him no peace. Astounded by her devotion to her faith, the admirer converted to Christianity, and Lucy, the legend continues, later found her eyesight miraculously restored one day during prayer. It is possible that the young saint's connection with eyes originated in the Latin source for her name, Lux or "light," which is inextricably linked with vision.
The success of Zurbarán's many images of virgin martyrs derived not only from their inherently pleasing theme -- beautiful, splendidly dressed women -- but also from the artist's gifts as a colorist and his talent for combining the spiritual and material.
More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication Spanish Paintings of the Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries, which is available as a free PDF https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/spanish-painting-15th-19th-centuries.pdf
upper left: S.LVCIA
Art market, Paris, 1927-1928; Paul Somazzi, Izmir, Turkey; sold 1930 or after through Lily Buser, Philadelphia, to (Ehrich Galleries, New York); sold February 1934 to Chester Dale [1883-1962], New York; gift to NGA 1943.
- The Chester Dale Bequest, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1965, unnumbered checklist.
The painting is on a rather coarse, fairly open-weave fabric and is lined with an aqueous adhesive to fabric. The tacking margins have been cut off, and there is cusping of the fabric support on the right and bottom edges. There is a white ground layer over which an oil-type paint is applied wet into dry. It is relatively thinly applied with a certain amount of impasto in the flowers and some highlights. The original fabric is highly dessicated, and the condition of the paint layer suggests that there was once severe flaking overall. The existing losses are small but numerous, and many are filled with inpainting and discolored varnish. Also, the paint surface is abraded throughout and covered with a thick, discolored varnish. Discolored residues of old varnish which appear in the green drapery are particularly disfiguring.
- Mayer, August S. "Unbekannte Werke Zurbarans." Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst 56 (1927-1928): 289-292, repro. 292.
- Washington Times-Herald (18 July 1943): C-10.
- Soria, Martin S. "Francisco de Zurbarán: A Study of His Style." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 86 (1944): 33-48, 153-174, especially 167.
- Cook 1945, 82-83, fig. 10.
- Soria, Martin S. "Two Early Paintings by Zurbarán." The Art Quarterly 14 (1951): 256-260, figs. 1, 3.
- Soria, Martin S. The Paintings of Zurbarán. London, 1953: 9, 23, 133, no. 2, pl. 2.
- Evans, Grose. Spanish Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1960 (Booklet Number Ten in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.): 24, color repro.
- Guinard, Paul. Zurbarán et les peintres espagnols de la vie monastique. Paris, 1960: 240, no. 272, repro.
- Paintings other than French in the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 10, repro., as Santa Lucia.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 141.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 128, repro.
- Gregori, Mina, and Tiziana Frati. L'opera completa di Zurbarán. Milan, 1973: 99, no. 168, pl. 26.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 380, repro.
- Gudiol y Ricart, José, and Julián Gállego. Zurbarán 1598-1664. London, 1977: 78, no. 51, fig. 58.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 247, no. 313, color repro., as Santa Lucia.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 444, repro.
- Brown, Jonathan, and Richard G. Mann. Spanish Paintings of the Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1990: 134-136, color repro. 135.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 84, repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 171, no. 132, color repro.