During the 4th century, Lucy was the daughter of a rich nobleman who died when she was young. Her mother wanted to arrange her marriage to a rich Pagan man, but Lucy had committed her life to Christ and pledged to remain a virgin. She wished to spend her dowry on alms for the poor.
During a trip to the tomb of Saint Agatha, Lucy saw a vision of St. Agatha and her mother’s longstanding illness was miraculously cured. Her mother converted to Christianity and agreed to end her marriage, but Lucy’s bridegroom was displeased. He denounced her to the Roman governor as a Christian, at a time when being a Christian which was a crime punishable by death. When Lucy refused to become a Pagan, she was sentenced to forced prostitution and, later, to death.
In one version of her story, the soldiers who came to punish Lucy were miraculously unable to move or burn the young girl. Instead, they took out her eyes with a fork. In another version, Lucy’s betrothed admired her beautiful eyes. Unwilling to be married to a pagan, she tore her eyes out and gave them to him with the plea, “Now let me live to God.”
Lucy’s name comes from the Latin word for light (lux) and many celebrate December 13 as Saint Lucy’s feast day because it is the original Northern Hemisphere winter solstice, the day with the least amount of light. She is also credited as the Patron Saint of the Blind.
In this painting by Veronese, the artist locates Saint Lucy’s story in his contemporary Venetian dress and locale.
As Lucy accepts communion given by a priest, a soldier stabs her in the chest. Flames behind her allude to earlier attempts to kill her by burning, and oxen allude to the failed attempt to drag Lucy to a brothel to which she had been condemned for her faith. With darkened colors and heavy brushstrokes, the work likely reflects Veronese’s views on the Counter-Reformation occurring during his lifetime.
The heavy brushstrokes, created with a rapid, expressive technique, also emphasize light and shadow in this painting. The technique heightens the scene’s emotional impact: Lucy is reaching out to the purity of her faith (signified by the priest’s white robe), but prevented by the dagger from the dark, unkempt-looking man to her left. Veronese is subtly stating facts about Lucy’s story, and perhaps her viewpoint: the men of her faith on the right are finely dressed while the man to her left is unkempt and symbolic of the pagan she was to marry. Far to the left, we see the partial figure of a woman, representing the viewer looking upon Lucy’s death.
This painting is the last surviving panel of a funeral bier that Beccafumi was commissioned to paint in 1521. Saint Lucy is depicted holding a dagger, the instrument of her martyrdom, and a glass stand with two eyes as symbols of the torture she endured (a typical motif associated with Saint Lucy in art).
Beccafumi has counterbalanced Lucy’s limbs to create a classically balanced pose. Through contrasting colors, he conjures references to her connection with light.