Saint Lucia

Painting depicting Saint Lucia led to martyrdom.

Tecniche: painting on canvas

Artist: Unknown Sicilian painter

Date: first half century XVII

The painting portrays Saint Lucia led to martyrdom and it recounts a simultaneous and very agitated narration of several moments of the hagiographic story. The saint is forcefully dragged by her captors and by a pair of oxen, through ropes that surround her body and hands; her gaze is turned up to heaven where a little angel bears the symbols of her martyrdom (her crown and palm). Burning coals are placed under her feet – barely legible - which allude to the torture of fire to which she was subjected.

A group of torturers gathers around Lucia. Some are intended on pulling the ropes with every effort to move her body that was made miraculously very heavy. In fact, the hagiographic sources (from the Passio and the Acts of the martyrs, both dating back to the 5th century) tell us that the  Syracusan young woman- who lived in the 4th century, time of the great persecution that was decided by the emperor Diocletian - was sued by her pagan betrothed, rejected and subjected to a trial celebrated by the proconsul Pascasio. She faced it with the steadfastness and pride of the girl in a very determined way as she was conducted in a brothel. After the sentence, her body became so heavy that every effort to move it, even with the intervention of oxen, were in vain. One of the figures represented in the painting flaunts a golden statuette, that relates to the proposal made by the proconsul to renounce the Christian faith and adore pagan idols. On the far left, a soldier is depicted in the act of unsheathing his sword which was embedded in the saint’s throat, causing her death.

The work is characterized by an intense dramatic tone that invests all the figures mainly through the skillful use of the light that radiates from above, from the left corner.

The painting has similarities with the large altarpiece of the same content created in the second half of the 16th century by Deodato Guinaccia to the church of the Monastery of Santa Lucia in Syracuse. In fact, the similarities in the narrative are the intent and the emotional charge that moves the scene, for which the figures act in a blatant way, although the Syracusan work is more choral, while the Milazzese presents a more contained breath. The unknown author of the canvas presented here seems to give proof of his knowledge of Guinaccia's work, especially in the pose of the saint and the soldier who, to her left, energetically grips a rope with both hands which recalls a male figure intended on the same operation in the Syracusan painting.

According to Chillemi, the work comes from the ancient cathedral. According to the researcher, it was placed on the altar of Santa Lucia on the first altar on the left.

The actual conditions of the picture do not allow us to have a clear reading and understanding. It was, in fact, subjected in an unspecified period to an incautious restoration which attacked the pictorial part by removing some layers; it is conceivable that on the same occasion the canvas underwent a resizing on all four sides. This is clearly indicated by some inexplicably cut elements, such as the head of the oxen, on the right (a part is missing) or notice above at the scene of the little angels, some parts of their heads are missing. Notice that the foot of the torturer and the soldier’s on the left also cut in half. Even the restoration carried out in recent times hasn’t been able to restore the original state or remedy the damage.

As far as the dating is concerned, based on the few legible elements that remains, one could hypothesize a construction dating back to the mid-seventeenth century or to the first decades of the second half; it is also difficult to formulate a thesis on the author’s identity , which seems to be able to be sought within the regional ambit.