5 Saints painted by Artemisia Gentileschi
Happy All Saints’ Day! That means it’s the one day of the year when all the saints, famous and obscure, come together and are collectively remembered on the Christian calendar.
According to the subject-matter breakdown of known works by Artemisia (not yet including the latest find in Beirut) depictions of saints include 9 female and 3 male saints in total. To celebrate this day, here are 5 saints depicted by Artemisia Gentileschi and everything you need to know about them.
1. St Catherine of Alexandria (d. 305)
According to the sources, St Catherine (Santa Caterina d’Alessandria) was a young girl and scholar born in Alexandria who became a Christian martyr at the hands of emperor Maxentius during a time of great persecution for early Christians. Maxentius sentenced Catherine to death upon the wheel (a brutal form of torture involving tying the victim to a wheel and being struck with hammers). In Catherine’s case, however, the machine broke apart and injured the bystanders instead. Fun fact: Catherine was one of the saints who appeared before the military leader Joan of Arc (France, b. 1412) who herself later became canonised as a saint.
Attributes: A broken wheel; sword; dove; hand on a book; crown at her feet; woman arguing with philosophers.
Patronage Includes: Young girls, students, educators, lawyers, librarians, scholars, scribes, theologians, craftsmen who work with a wheel.
2. St Januarius (d. 305)
St Januarius (San Gennaro) was a Naples-born Bishop of Benevento who returned to his hometown in 305 to encourage Christians who were then under persecution by Diocletian. After surviving torture and exposure to wild animals in the amphitheatre, where the animals did not touch Januarius or his companions, he was decapitated along with St Proculus (coming next).
Artemisia incorporates key aspects of the story into the image to make the saint instantly recognisable: the setting; Januarius making the sign of the cross as his companions look upward; the beasts as lion, lioness and bear; and the behaviour of the animals who transform from ferocious to tame.
The signature “ARTEMITIA / G. [SCA] / F.” appeared when the painting was cleaned after 1964. It is likely that the painting, as was commonly the case, was the result of a collaboration between several ‘hands’ who took responsibility over different aspects of the scene. The team being: Gentileschi, Stanzione, Finoglio, Lanfranco and Francanzano .
3. St Proculus and St Nicea (d. 250 or 305)
St Proculus (San Procolo) was one of the companions of St Januarius and the Deacon of Pozzuoli, who suffered martyrdom alongside Januarius by decapitation during the Diocletian persecutions. An alternative theory proposes that Proculus was killed under Roman Emperor Decius in 250 (i.e. the Decian persecutions).
This painting is signed “AG [interlaced] F.” which could stand for “Artemisia Gentileschi Fecit (or Faciebat)” and is one of three paintings Artemisia created for the Cathedral of Pozzuoli, conceived as part of a cycle to venerate the church (alonside St Januarius and His Companions and Adoration of the Magi).
Little is known about St Nicea, who was the mother of Proculus and this is the only known painting of Proculus and Nicea together.
4. St Cecilia (d. 222-235)
St Cecilia (Santa Cecilia) was buried in the Catacomb of Callixtus and later transferred to the beautiful Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere – both of which you can still visit today! As the story goes, Cecilia had taken a vow of virginity and service to God but her parents had forced her to marry a pagan nobleman named Valerian. During the wedding, Cecilia sat apart singing to God in her heart, for which she was later declared the saint of musicians.
When the time came for her marriage to be consummated, Cecilia told Valerian that watching over her was an angel of the Lord, who would love him if he respected her virginity. When Valerian asked to see the angel, Cecilia directed him to the third milestone of the Via Appia where he was baptised by Pope Urban I and he saw the angel standing beside his wife – crowning her with roses and lilies. According to a different theory, St Cecilia instead died in Sicily under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius between 176 and 180 AD.
 W. Bissell, Artemisia Gentileschi and the Authority of Art: Critical Reading and Catalogue Raisonné, 2001, p. 80.