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Peter Humfrey, “Veronese/The Martyrdom and Last Communion of Saint Lucy/c. 1585/1586,” Italian Paintings of the Sixteenth Century, NGA Online Editions, (accessed July 24, 2024).

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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 was celebrated for his sumptuously painted histories and mythologies, which he translated into opulent contemporary surroundings and dress. Here, Veronese’s own Venice, and not Lucy’s ancient Syracuse, is the backdrop to the scene. Veronese’s distinctive style typically draws on a light color range, with pale shadows, but The Martyrdom and Last Communion of Saint Lucy is a masterpiece of his late style and reveals a different aspect of his temperament. Cast in evening light, the colors have deepened and acquired a muted glow.


The picture is first unambiguously recorded in 1723 as above the door to the campanile in the church of Santa Croce, Belluno (see Provenance). This is unlikely, however, to have been its original position, and it was probably painted for the side wall of the nearby chapel of Saint Lucy, to complement an altarpiece consisting of a triptych of gilded wooden statues. The displacement of Veronese’s painting was probably necessitated by the commission of the local Bellunese painter Giovanni Fossa (1645–1732) to decorate the chapel with a new scene of the saint’s martyrdom, probably in fresco. The circumstances of Veronese’s commission are undocumented, but the body responsible for supervising the extensive redecoration of the church in the late 16th century, often employing painters from Venice, was a leading local devotional confraternity, the Compagnia della Croce.[1] The likelihood that the Compagnia played a major role in the commission is confirmed by Carlo Ridolfi, who listed among Veronese’s works “E per la Compagnia della Croce di Ciuidale la figure di Santa Lucia” (And for the Compagnia della Croce in Cividale [di Belluno] the figure of Saint Lucy).[2]

Saint Lucy was a virgin martyr of Syracuse, who was put to death at the beginning of the 4th century during the persecutions of the emperor Diocletian. According to the account of her life given in the Golden Legend, numerous unsuccessful attempts were made to force her to abjure her Christian faith. Whole teams of oxen were unable to drag her to a brothel. In exasperation, the Roman governor commanded that she be burned at the stake, but before this could happen, one of his henchmen plunged his sword into her throat. She remained alive long enough for a priest to arrive to administer the last rites. While alluding to the episodes of the burning and the oxen in the sketchily executed background, and including on the far left the half-cropped figure of Lucy’s mother, Eutychia, Veronese conflated in the right foreground the two aspects of the story that would have been of particular interest to post-Tridentine religion: Lucy’s martyrdom and her reception of the sacrament of the Eucharist. Even as she sacrifices her life for the love of Christ, she is seen accepting that the soul’s salvation is achieved only through the sacraments of the Catholic Church; while the executioner bends over her almost tenderly to perform his brutal task, she gazes in tearful rapture at the Eucharistic wafer. As pointed out by Beverly Brown, Veronese’s affective emphasis on the redemptive power of the Eucharist may have been inspired by the description of Lucy’s martyrdom in Lorenzo Surio’s De Probatis Sanctorum Historiis, published in Venice in 1575. But as Brown also noted, Surio said that the executioner stabbed the saint in the abdomen, whereas Veronese, adapting the iconography of Saint Justina, showed her being stabbed in the breast.[3]

The picture is not dated, but ever since its first public display at the Italian Art and Britain exhibition in 1960, there has been general agreement that it is an autograph work of high quality, datable to the last decade of Veronese’s life, between circa 1582 and his death in 1588. Analyzing the x-radiographs [fig. 1] and the pentimenti they reveal, Brown has drawn attention the spontaneity of the design process.[4] Rodolfo Pallucchini, Alessandro Ballarin, and Brown have dated the picture to the earlier part of the decade, to circa 1580/1582,[5] whereas Terisio Pignatti and Filippo Pedrocco, as well as W. R. Rearick, have seen it as a very late work of circa 1585/1586.[6] In favor of the latter dating is the dusky color range and the picture’s very close stylistic similarity to the documented Miracle of Saint Pantaleon of 1587 (San Pantalon, Venice), in which a vested priest similarly ministers to a suffering victim with deep compassion.

Brown has noted two early copies, both probably dating from the earlier 17th century: one, a small oval on panel, in the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, formerly in the monastery of San Michele in Isola; and the other, larger and less faithful, in an English private collection.[7] Brown also traced the inspiration of the painting on later Venetian painters, such as Sebastiano Ricci and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

Peter Humfrey

March 21, 2019


Santa Croce, Belluno;[1] sent 1808/1811 to Milan.[2] Generale Conte Teodoro Lechi [1778-1866], Brescia, Italy, by 1814 (no. 49 in 1814 inventory);[3] acquired 1827 by (James Irvine, London and Rome) for Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, 7th bt. [1773-1828], Fettercairn, Kincardineshire, Scotland; by inheritance to his son, Sir John Stuart Hepburn Forbes, 8th bt. [1804-1866], Pitsligo and Fettercairn;[4] (Forbes sale, by Alexander Rainy, London, 2 June 1842, no. 30, as The Martyrdom of St. Giustina, not sold);[5] by inheritance to his daughter, Harriet Williamina Hepburn-Forbes Trefusis, baroness Clinton [1835-1869], Heanton Satchville, Huish, near Merton, Devon, and Fettercairn; 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 [1863-1957], Heanton Satchville and Fettercairn; by inheritance to his daughter, Fenella Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis [1889-1966, Mrs. John Herbert Bowes-Lyon], Fettercairn; gift to her daughter, Diana Cinderella Bowes-Lyon [1923-1986, Mrs. Peter Somervell]; (Somervell sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 25 June 1971, no. 23); purchased by Eisenbeiss. private collection, Germany; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 10 April 1981, no. 78); (Matthiesen Fine Art, Ltd., London); sold 1984 to NGA.

Exhibition History

Italian Art and Britain. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1960, no. 67, repro.
Paolo Veronese: Disegni e dipinti, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice, 1988, no. 66, repro.
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.
Paolo Veronese: A Master and His Workshop in Renaissance Venice, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, 2012-2013, no. 26, repro.
Paolo Veronese. L'illusione della realtà, Palazzo della Gran Guardia, Verona, 2014, no. 5.18, repro.

Technical Summary

The picture is painted on a plain-weave, medium-weight fabric, consisting of three pieces, the largest of which is joined to the two smaller ones along a horizontal seam running approximately 39 centimeters above the lower edge. A vertical seam in Saint Lucy’s robe joins the two smaller pieces of fabric. The painting has been lined, and although the original tacking margins are now missing, it appears to be close to its original dimensions. The paint was applied fluidly over an off-white preparation, thinly in the darker areas, more thickly in the light colors, and more thickly still in the highlights. The x-radiographs [fig. 1] show extensive pentimenti as in the positions of Saint Lucy’s head and outstretched hand, in the hand of the kneeling figure, in the area above Lucy’s cap, in the architecture above the executioner’s head, in the man in the background sitting on the well, and elsewhere. There are several old tears in the original fabric support; the most prevalent ones are located in Saint Lucy’s neck, in the head and scarf of the left-most figure, and in the blue garment of the kneeling figure. The surface is somewhat abraded, and the thinly painted architecture has darkened, in a way that compromises the spatial relationship of foreground to background. The painting was treated in 1982 before it entered the collection.  

Peter Humfrey and Joanna Dunn based on the examination report by Jia-sun Tsang

March 21, 2019


Indice e Descrizione dei Quadri del Sig. Generale Conte Teodoro Lechi di Brescia esistenti nella sua Casa in Milano. Milan, 1814: no. 49.
Doglioni, Lucio. Notizie istoriche e geografiche della città di Belluno e sua provincia: Con dissertazioni due dell'antico stato, e intorno al sito di Belluno (1780). Rev. ed. Belluno, 1816: 36.
Caliari, Pietro. Paolo Veronese, sua vita e sue opere: Studi storico-estetici. Rome, 1888: 281.
Ridolfi, Carlo. Le maraviglie dell’arte, overo Le vite de gl'illustri pittori veneti, e dello Stato(Venice, 1648). Edited by Detlev von Hadeln. 2 vols. Berlin, 1914-1924: 1(1914):317.
Watson, Francis J. B. “Venetian Art and Britian: A Partial Survey of the Royal Academy’s Winter Exhibition.” Arte Veneta 13-14 (1959-60): 267.
Brooke, Humphrey, ed. Italian Art and Britain. Exh. cat. Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1960: 38-39.
Vertova, Luisa. “Some Late Works by Veronese.” The Burlington Magazine 102 (1960): 68.
Pallucchini, Rodolfo, “La pittura veneta alla mostra Italian Art and Britain: Appunti e proposte.” In Eberhard Hanfstaengl zum 75. Geburtstag. Edited by Eberhard Ruhmer. Munich, 1961: 75.
Ballarin, Alessandro. “Osservazioni sui dipinti veneziani del Cinquecento nella Galleria del Castello di Praga.” Arte Veneta 19 (1965): 79-80.
Lechi, Fausto. I quadri delle collezioni Lechi in Brescia. Florence, 1968: 184 no. 107.
Marini, Remigio. Tutta la pittura di Paolo Veronese. Milan, 1968: 109 no. 122.
Pignatti, Terisio. Veronese. 2 vols. Venice, 1976: 1:95-96, 155, no. 279.
Cocke, Richard. Veronese. London, 1980: 17, 101.
Brigstocke, Hugh, ed. William Buchanan and the 19th Century Art Trade: 100 Letters to His Agents in London and Italy. New Haven, 1982: 29-30.
Pallucchini, Rodolfo. Veronese. Milan, 1984: 185.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 423, repro.
Bettagno, Alessandro, ed. Paolo Veronese: Disegni e dipinti. Exh. cat. San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, 1988: 104-105.
Brown, Beverly Louise. “Paolo Veronese’s The Martyrdom and Last Communion of Saint Lucy.” Venezia Arti 2 (1988): 61-68.
Cocke, Richard. “Paolo Veronese: Disegni e dipinti.” The Burlington Magazine 130 (1988): 490.
Rearick, W. R. The Art of Paolo Veronese, 1528-1588. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Cambridge, 1988: 188-189.
Brown, Beverly Louise. "Replication and the Art of Veronese." Studies in the History of Art 20 (1989):111-124, repro.
Hinterding, Erik, and Fenny Horsch. “A Small but Choice Collection: The Art Gallery of King Willem II of the Netherlands (1792-1849).” Simiolus 20 (1989): 31.
Humfrey, Peter. “The Provenance of Veronese’s Martyrdom of St Lucy in Washington.” Arte Veneta 43 (1989–1990): 89–90.
Pignatti, Terisio. “Il Martirio di Santa Caterina Tallard di Paolo Veronese.” Artibus et Historiae 10, no. 20 (1989): 59-61.
Pignatti, Terisio, and Filippo Pedrocco. Veronese: Catalogo completo dei dipinti. Florence, 1991: 318, no. 253.
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 105, repro.
Pignatti, Terisio, and Filippo Pedrocco. Veronese. 2 vols. Milan, 1995: 2:489-491 no. 391.
Cocke, Richard. Paolo Veronese: Piety and Display in an Age of Religious Reform. Aldershot, 2001: 109, 207.
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 99, no. 76, color repro.
Humfrey, Peter, et al. The Age of Titian: Venetian Renaissance Art from Scottish Collections. Edited by Aidan Weston-Lewis. Exh. cat. Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, 2004: 192-193.
Romani, Vittoria. Tiziano e il tardo rinascimento a Venezia: Jacopo Bassano, Jacopo Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese. Florence, 2007: 304, 306.
Brilliant, Virginia, and Frederick Ilchman, eds. Paolo Veronese: A Master and His Workshop in Renaissance Venice. Exh. cat. John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota. London, 2012: 147-148, 265.
Rosand, David. Véronèse. Paris, 2012: 236-237, color repro.
Biferali, Fabrizio. Paolo Veronese tra Riforma e Controriforma. Rome, 2013: 101-102.
Harris, Neil. Capital Culture: J. Carter Brown, the National Gallery of Art, and the Reinvention of the Museum Experience. Chicago and London, 2013: 422.
Zamperini, Alessandra. Paolo Veronese. San Giovanni Lupatoto, Verona, 2013: 265.
Marini, Paola, and Bernard Aikema, eds. Paolo Veronese: L’illusione della realtà. Exh. cat. National Gallery, London; Palazzo della Gran Guardia, Verona. Milan, 2014: 296-297.

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