Martyrdom of St. Januarius (?)
Cesare Fracanzano (attributed) (1612, Monopoli (Bari)-1656, Barletta)
Oil on canvas
h: 99 cm; w: 121 cm
The canvas was acquired by Camillo Borghese in 1818. Critics do not agree on the attribution, although it is acknowledged as clearly belonging to the culture of Southern Italian Baroque. The painting has been attributed to Cesare Fracanzano, a Puglian artist who first trained with Ribera and was later influenced by the artistic currents inspired by Van Dyke. Other scholars have suggested that the work is by a follower of Francesco Fracanzano, the brother of Cesare.
Even the identity of the subject, who is undoubtedly a martyr, is not known for certain. Some scholars see the bishop-saint, one of the Fathers of the Church, as Ignatius of Antioch, the third largest and important city in the Mediterranean. The martyr was imprisoned by Emperor Trajan (96–117), who took him to Rome and had him killed by wild animals. In his “Letters”, he was the first person to use the adjective “Catholic” or “Universal” regarding the Church.
The iconography of the saint killed by wild animals is also consistent with the hagiographic account of St. Januarius, Bishop of Benevento, who during the reign of Diocletian (284–305) was condemned to death and tortured on several occasions. Although he escaped unharmed from the wild animals, he was finally decapitated at Solfatara.
The work is characterised by very dramatic gestures, accompanied by the piteous face of the saint. The artist took care to render in minute detail the lines of the face, the hands marked with age, and the emaciated body rent by the teeth of the wild beasts. The dappled fur and facial features of the animals are picked out in an almost exotic style. The colour of the fine cape, now in shreds, is striking and the elegance of the cloth of blue silk and gold is sumptuously rendered.
Ignatius of Antioch – who inspired another Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits – is perhaps portrayed here at the time of his martyrdom, killed by wild animals. Ignatius, one of the Fathers of the Church wrote seven “Letters” for the first time in which appear the terms “Catholic Church” and “Christianity”. It could also be the iconography of St. Januarius who was similarly killed by wild animals. The painting is characterised by an extreme theatricality of gestures.
The Borghese Collection was acquired by the Italian State in 1902.
Della Pergola, P., Galleria Borghese. I dipinti, I, Rome, 1955, n.158, p. 88–89.
Bologna, F., Francesco Solimena, Naples, 1958, n.19, pp. 126–127.
Guarino, S., in Invisibilia. Rivedere i capolavori, vedere i progetti, exhibition catalogue, Rome, 1992, p. 44.
Copyright image: Archivio fotografico Soprintendenza Speciale PSAE e Polo Museale della Città di Roma.
Sofia Barchiesi, Marina Minozzi "Martyrdom of St. Januarius (?)" in "Discover Baroque Art", Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://www.discoverbaroqueart.org/database_item.php?id=object;BAR;it;Mus11;45;en
Prepared by: Sofia BarchiesiSofia Barchiesi
TITLE: Author and Researcher
Sofia Barchiesi, a graduate and specialist in Art History and recipient of a scholarship from the School of Mediaeval and Modern Art History at Lumsa University, has been working with the Superintendency for Historical Artistic Heritage and the Museums of Rome since the late 1980s. She was responsible for cataloguing the art of the region and museums of Rome, studying the period of the Counter-Reformation particularly closely. She works with journals and writes essays, alternating her research and teaching work., Marina MinozziMarina Minozzi
AFFILIATION: Borghese Gallery, Rome
TITLE: Head Art History Co-ordinator
Marina Minozzi, a graduate and specialist in Art History, is currently the Head Art History Co-ordinator at the Borghese Gallery, where she curates the collections from the 18th and 19th centuries and heads the museum’s Documentation Centre. She has published a range of papers, including many on art-collecting in Rome and particularly the Borghese collection. She is currently involved with the Ten Great Exhibitions project underway at the Borghese Gallery, and has written essays on the work of Bernini, Raffaello, Canova and Correggio.
Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: IT1 59