Riposo nella fuga in Egitto con Santa Giustina (1529-1530)

Lotto, Lorenzo (1480-1557)

Riposo nella fuga in Egitto con Santa Giustina (Rest on the Flight into Egypt with St Justine)
Oil on canvas, 82 x 132.5 cm
Hermitage MuseumSaint Petersburg

The story of Saint Justine is full of puzzles and cannot be considered entirely reliable. Her hagiography was, however, included in the Golden Legend, a celebrated anthology compiled by the Dominican monk Jacobus de Varagine around the year 1260 that became the account of the lives and deeds of the saints most widely read in mediaeval and Renaissance Europe. The book was second in popularity to the Bible itself, and all the saints that figured in it were regarded to be real historical personages. The young woman Justine of Antioch was said to be the daughter of a pagan priest. On hearing Christianity preached, she became a convert and persuaded he parents to do the same. A wealthy pagan sought her hand in marriage, but she rejected him. Her cruel suitor then sought the help of the magician Cyprian, asking him to bring pestilence to the city in the hope that the people themselves would force Justine to marry. Justine, however, asked God to protect the people and then even converted the pagan magician to Christianity. During his persecution of the new religion, Emperor Diocletian ordered that Justine be put to death in a brutal way. Justine’s steadfastness and devotion to the faith, as well as the romantic aspects of her deeds, featuring unrequited love, a magician and an epidemic, made her a very popular subject. Many artists, including the celebrated Italian master Lorenzo Lotto, depicted Saint Justine in compositions along with the Holy Family as a symbol of firmness of spirit and an allegory of the new faith and new world that awaited all people with the coming of Christ. (SHM)