Il martirio e l’ultima comunione di Santa Lucia (1585-1586)

Veronese, Paolo (1528-1588)

Il martirio e l’ultima comunione di Santa Lucia (The Martyrdom and Last Communion of Saint Lucy)
Oil on canvas, 139.7 x 173.4 cm
National Gallery of ArtWashington

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. (NGA)