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Saint Agatha

17th century
75.7 cm x 64.1 cm (29 13/16 in. x 25 1/4 in.)

Lorenzo Lippi (Florence, Italy, 1606 - 1665, Florence, Italy) Primary

Object Type: painting
Artist Nationality: Europe, Italian
Medium and Support: Oil on canvas
Credit Line: Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, The Suida-Manning Collection, 2017
Accession Number: 2017.1212

Until recently this painting was attributed to Orazio Riminaldi, an early follower of Caravaggio working out of Pisa. After careful examination and comparisons to other works by Lorenzo Lippi, The Blanton has once again identified it as by the hand of the Florentine master––an attribution made by William Suida when the painting first entered his collection. Lippi shied away from the highly decorative grandeur typical of the time and adopted a clear, pure style resulting in a subtle, dramatic aesthetic. Vague in substance and dreamy in mood, the subject holds a mild erotic charge and suggests the decadence of the city’s culture.

This extraordinary painting exhibits Lippi’s unusual palette, his typical facial types––articulated with careful, compact modeling––and his soft, thinly veiled drapery. He renders the early Christian martyr in a traditional manner, accompanied by the instrument of her torture and its result, her severed breasts. Transfixing the viewer with a glance that is at once vulnerable and provocative, she challenges the viewer to sort out devout sympathy from prurient curiosity. Her attributes are so vivid that the usual boundary between the symbolic and the actual breaks down. In this context, with the inherently beautiful handling of the medium, the image is a memorable combination of pungent realism and subtle transgression.

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