Saint Lucia: Early Christian Martyr or Valencian Fashion Model?

In the Fine Arts Museum of Valencia you will find this magnificent representation of one of the most interesting virgin saints of the biblical world.

This Lucía de Siracusa, however, is a jewel of the Valencian Renaissance and shows all her devotion in a wonderfully embroidered silk mantle.

Article by Karla Ingleton Darocas (

She was a young Christian martyr (283-304) who is venerated as a saint by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and is also known as Saint Lucia. In Spain, she is celebrated by her followers with a feast on 13 December, the longest night of the year according to the first Julian calendar.

This image most likely follows the mediaeval legend about Lucia. When she refused to marry, she was persecuted by Pascasio, a proconsul of the Roman magistrate. He ordered that she be raped to rid her of her sacred devotion to God and that her beautiful eyes be gouged out. But fortunately God gave her new eyes, which were even more beautiful than the ones she had before.

What we see in this panel painting is a woman of gentle and tender beauty. A panel painting means that it was painted on prepared wood. The wooden boards were glued together, sanded, then painted with a fine layer of gesso (plaster paste), sanded further and finally painted with egg tempera or oil paints 

This Lucia was painted between 1490 and 1510 by a little-known Valencian painter who called himself Maestro del Perea.

What is known about this artist is that he belonged to a community of painters, 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 sailed from Rome to Valencia in 1472 on commission from Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, later Pope Alexander VI. Paolo de San Leocadio brought the Renaissance style to Valencia. He is the artist who composed and painted the beautiful and celestial frescoes above the altar of Valencia Cathedral.

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

Her face is sweet and soft with Italian features such as the popular long Roman nose. She holds her palm frond as a symbol of her martyrdom. She wears a headscarf as a symbol of her devotion and a shield with her eyes as proof of her sacrifice 

She is draped in rich brocades that highlight the magnificent floral design of the 15th century. Both the fabric of her cloak and the wall covering behind her show a pomegranate or artichoke motif. This was the predominant pattern for silk weavers in Florence, Genoa, Venice, Valencia and Seville.

Maestro del Perea no doubt wanted to accommodate the rich silk merchants of the city by putting Lucia in such iconic fabric dresses. This gives a familiar feel to the old story. This was typical of the Renaissance, which sought to refresh or reinvent the classical periods of art and literature, so why not the Bible?

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

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Karla Ingleton Darocas 
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