In her left hand, Saint Lucy holds a martyr’s palm, signifying the victory of spirit over flesh, as well as a single eye on a rod. This latter attribute refers to a legend about the saint, which told of how she plucked out her eyes because their beauty had attracted an unwelcome suitor, but God then restored them as a reward for her virtue and courage. Lucy consequently became a patron saint of sufferers from eye disease.
This work was probably painted for the church of San Francesco in Montagnana, near Padua. The specific location was the former Abriani Chapel, so the figure of the kneeling donor, represented in profile in the immediate foreground, almost certainly represents a member of the Abriani family. It is likely that the original dedication of the chapel was to Saint Lucy and that the painting served as its altarpiece.
The disjunction of scale between the saint and the donor can be interpreted as a deliberate means to express differing degrees of reality, contrasting the ideal, divine nature of the saint with the humble supplicant living in the here and now. Indeed, the difference of scale is complemented by a contrast in the pictorial handling between the two figures, with the draperies of the saint executed broadly and freely, and the head of the donor painted much more minutely.
The saint is identifiable as Lucy by the attributes she holds in her left hand, consisting of a martyr’s palm and a single eye (rather than the usual two) on a rod or stick. This latter attribute refers to a well-diffused legend about the saint, which told of how she plucked out her eyes because their beauty had attracted an unwelcome suitor, but God then restored them as a reward for her virtue and courage. Lucy consequently became a patron saint of sufferers from eye disease.
George Kaftal, Saints in Italian Art, Vol. 1: Iconography of the Saints in Tuscan Art (Florence, 1952), 650; Maria Chiara Celletti, “Lucia, santa, martire di Siracusa (iconografia),” in Bibliotheca Sanctorum, ed. Istituto Giovanni XXIII nella Pontificia Università lateranense (Rome, 1967), 8: col. 252.
The early history of the painting has recently been elucidated by Mauro Lucco, who recognized a painting in the church of San Francesco in Montagnana, near Padua, as a copy.
Letter (email) from Mauro Lucco to David Alan Brown, dated Jan. 22, 2011, in NGA curatorial files.
Giacinto Foratti, Cenni storici e descrittivi di Montagnana (Venice, 1863), 2:124 (“Si rimarca pure sopra una parete un quadro, che rappresenta Santa Lucia, onde diede il modello Paolo Veronese. Era anche questo altare dei suddetti conti Abriani”).
In a MS opinion of 1926 (NGA curatorial files, quoted by Fern Rusk Shapley, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XVI–XVIII Century [London, 1973], 40; Fern Rusk Shapley, Catalogue of the Italian Paintings [Washington, DC, 1979], 1:528), Detlev von Hadeln suggested that the original site of the picture was the church of Santa Croce in Belluno, where Carlo Ridolfi in 1648 had recorded an image of Saint Lucy by Veronese. But it now turns out that Ridolfi was referring rather to the Gallery’s The Martyrdom and Last Communion of Saint Lucy, 1984.28.1.
Half a century later, in 1782, a subsequent owner of the painting, Vincenzo Ranuzzini, apostolic legate to Venice, sent it to his native city of Bologna, as an intended gift to Pope Pius VI; according to a letter announcing the arrival of the picture, the owner declared the donor to be a self-portrait of the artist.
Fabio Chiodini, “Una sosta bolognese per una tela di Paolo Caliari e indizi per un possibile autoritratti dell’artista,” Arte Cristiana 93 (2005): 116 (“un quadro di insigne pennello, e cioè di Paolo Veronese rappresentante una S. Lucia in figura di naturale grandezza con appiedi il mezzo busto del Pittor sud[dett]o”).
Represented in profile in the immediate foreground, in a gesture of prayer, and cut off at the waist by the lower edge of the picture, the donor figure conforms to a convention closely associated with Veronese’s native city of Verona, dubbed by André Chastel “le donateur ‘in abisso’” (the donor in the abyss).
André Chastel, “Le donateur ‘in abisso’ dans les ‘pale,’” in Festschrift für Otto von Simson zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. Lucius Grisebach and Konrad Renger (Frankfurt-am-Main, 1977), 273–283.
The striking disjunction of scale between the saint and the donor should not be interpreted as miscalculation, but as a deliberate means to express differing degrees of reality, contrasting the ideal, divine nature of the saint with the humble supplicant, living in the here and now. Indeed, the difference of scale is complemented by a contrast in the pictorial handling between the two figures, with the draperies of the saint executed broadly and freely, and the head of the donor painted much more minutely. Even so, the somewhat empty rhetoric of the saint and mechanical quality of the execution fall below the standard of Veronese himself, and ever since the picture entered the Gallery, there has been general critical agreement that it is at best a work of collaboration with the master, but is more probably by a member of the studio. A possible candidate, proposed by Remigio Marini, Rodolfo Pallucchini, and Terisio Pignatti and Filippo Pedrocco,
Remigio Marini, Tutta la pittura di Paolo Veronese (Milan, 1968), 125; Rodolfo Pallucchini, letter of Jan. 1971 in NGA curatorial files; Terisio Pignatti and Filippo Pedrocco, Veronese: catalogo completo dei dipinti (Florence, 1991), 336.
For Gabriele Caliari, see Luciana Crosato Larcher, “Per Gabriele Caliari,” Arte veneta 18 (1964): 174–175; Hans Dieter Huber, Paolo Veronese: Kunst als soziales System (Munich, 2005), 114–123. For Benedetto Caliari, see Luciana Crosato Larcher, “Note su Benedetto Caliari,” Arte veneta 23 (1969): 115–130; Cecil Gould, “Caliari, Benedetto,” in Dizionario biografico degli italiani, ed. Alberto Maria Ghisalberti (Rome, 1973), 16:700–701; Luciana Crosato Larcher, “La bottega di Paolo Veronese,” in Nuovi studi su Paolo Veronese, ed. Massimo Gemin (Venice, 1990), 256–265; Diana Gisolfi, “Caliari. (1) Benedetto Calieri (2) Carlo Caliari,” in The Dictionary of Art, ed. Jane Turner (New York and London, 1996), 5:431–432; Hans Dieter Huber, Paolo Veronese: Kunst als soziales System (Munich, 2005), 33–48.
It would have been very natural for any patron in Montagnana to look to Veronese or to a member of the family workshop when commissioning an altarpiece. In 1555 the master had painted the Transfiguration for the high altar in the neighboring chancel of the Duomo (in situ), apparently through the agency of the Venetian patrician Francesco Pisani; and a decade later he had painted one of his greatest works, the Family of Darius before Alexander (National Gallery, London), for Francesco’s residence the Villa Pisani, just outside the city walls.
See Nicholas Penny, National Gallery Catalogues: The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings, Vol. 2: Venice, 1540–1600 (London, 2008), 365–367.
March 21, 2019
Probably commissioned for the Abriani Chapel, Duomo, Montagnana, near Padua. Vincenzo Ranuzzini [1726-1800], apostolic legate to Venice; sent by him 1782 to Bologna. David John Carnegie, 10th earl of Northesk [1865-1921], Longwood, Winchester, Hampshire; (sale, Sotheby's, London, 30 June 1915, no. 108, withdrawn). A.M. Lever; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 9 February 1925, no. 128); purchased by Kendal, possibly for (Count Alessandro Contini Bonacossi, Rome and Florence); sold 1954 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1961 to NGA.
- Loan to display with the permanent collection, Allentown Art Museum, Pennsylvania, 1960.
- Obras Maestras de la National Gallery of Art de Washington, Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City, 1996-1997, unnumbered catalogue, 50-51, color repro.
The support is a tightly woven, medium-weight, plain-weave fabric. There is a vertical seam approximately 15 centimeters from the right edge. This smaller area is made up of three pieces of fabric joined with two horizontal seams. The support has been lined, but cusping around all four edges indicates that the painting retains the original dimensions.
The fabric was prepared with an off-white ground, covered by a transparent reddish-brown imprimatura. Infrared reflectography (Vidicon)
Infrared reflectography was performed with a Hamamatsu c/1000-03 Vidicon camera and a Kodak Wratten 87A filter.
Joanna Dunn and Peter Humfrey based on the examination report by Michael Swicklik
March 21, 2019
- Foratti, Giacinto. Cenni storici e descrittivi di Montagnana. 2 vols. Venice, 1862-1863: 2(1863):124.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1951-56. Introduction by John Walker, text by William E. Suida and Fern Rusk Shapley. National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1956: 194, no. 77, repro.
- Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Venetian School. 2 vols. London, 1957: 1:134.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 210, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 136.
- Marini, Remigio. Tutta la pittura di Paolo Veronese. Milan, 1968: 125 no. 251.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 123, repro.
- Fredericksen, Burton B., and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972: 40, 426, 510.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XVI-XVIII Century. London, 1973: 40, fig. 77.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 364, repro.
- Pignatti, Terisio. Veronese. 2 vols. Venice, 1976: 2:no. A405.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: 1:527-528; 2:pl. 367.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 215, no. 264, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 423, repro.
- Pignatti, Terisio, and Filippo Pedrocco. Veronese: Catalogo completo dei dipinti. Florence, 1991: 336, no. 85A.
- Pignatti, Terisio, and Filippo Pedrocco. Veronese. 2 vols. Milan, 1995: 2:527 no. A97.
- Chiodini, Fabio. “Una sosta bolognese per una tela di Paolo Caliari e indizi per un possibile autoritratti dell’artista.” Arte Cristiana 93 (2005): 115-120.