Saint Lucia: Early Christian Martyr or Valencian Fashion Model?

The Fine Arts Museum of Valencia is where you can find this gorgeous rendition of one of the most interesting virgin saints of the biblical world.

However, this Lucía de Siracusa is a Valencian Renaissance gem, displaying all of her devotion in a marvelously embroidered silk cloak.

Article by Karla Darocas (KarlaDarocas.com)

Known also as St. Lucia, she was a young Christian martyr (283-304), who is revered as a saint by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. In Spain, she is celebrated by her devotees with a festival on December 13, the longest night of the year, according to the first Julian calendar. 

This image most likely follows the medieval legend about Lucia. When she refused to marry, she was persecuted by Pascasio, a proconsul to the Roman magistrate. He ordered that she be raped to get rid of her holy devotion to God and that her beautiful eyes be gouged out. But luckily, God gifted her with new eyes, even more beautiful than those she had before.

What we see in this panel painting is a woman of soft and delicate beauty. A panel painting means that it was painted on prepared wood. Wooden boards were glued together, sanded, then spread with a fine layer of gesso (plaster paste), sanded more and finally it was ready for egg tempera or oil paints. 

This Lucia was painted somewhere between 1490 and 1510 by a little known Valencian painted who went by the name, Maestro del Perea.

What is known about this artist is that he belonged to a community of painters, or a workshop, in Valencia. He and his fellow painters were keen to adopt the latest Renaissance trends coming out of Italy.  

They were also influenced by the famous painter Paolo de San Leocadio, who in 1472, sailed from Rome to Valencia, at the command of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, the future Pope Alexander VI. Paolo de San Leocadio brought the Renaissance style to Valencia. He is the artist who composed and painted the beautiful and heavenly frescos above the altar in the Cathedral of Valencia.

In the case of Lucia, Maestro del Perea utilised the Italian style in the spatial conception. The figure is evenly proportioned within the frame and he used tiles to show a room that had a shallow depth of field. She was correctly positioned according to the geometric perception that was deemed important in the early days of the Renaissance. 

Her face is sweet and soft with Italian features like the popular long Roman nose. She holds her palm frond as a symbol of her martyrdom. She wears her head covered with a scarf as a symbol of her devotion, and a plate with her eyes as proof of her sacrifice. 

She is draped in rich brocades of cloth that highlighted the stately floral design of the 15th century. Both the draping fabric of her cloak, and the wall covering behind her, feature a pomegranate or artichoke motif. This was the most dominant design for the silk weavers of Florence, Genoa, Venice, Valencia and Seville.

Maestro del Perea was no doubt pandering to the rich silk merchants of the city by placing Lucia in such iconic fabric robes. It gives a familiar feeling to the ancient tale. This was typical of the Renaissance, which looked to refresh or reinvent the classical periods of art and literature, so why not the Bible too. 

There is a good description of the legend of Lucía de Siracusa in English - READ HERE

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