Name of Object:

Martyrdom of St. Januarius (?)


Rome, Latium, Italy

Holding Museum:

Borghese Gallery

 About Borghese Gallery, Rome

Date of Object:

c. 1635–40

Artist(s) / Craftsperson(s):

Cesare Fracanzano (attributed) (1612, Monopoli (Bari)-1656, Barletta)

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Oil on canvas


h: 99 cm; w: 121 cm


Borghese Collection

Type of object:



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.

View Short Description

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.

Current Owner:

Italian State

How Object was obtained:

The Borghese Collection was acquired by the Italian State in 1902.

Selected bibliography:

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.

Additional Copyright Information:

Copyright image: Archivio fotografico Soprintendenza Speciale PSAE e Polo Museale della Città di Roma.

Citation of this web page:

Sofia Barchiesi, Marina Minozzi "Martyrdom of St. Januarius (?)" in "Discover Baroque Art", Museum With No Frontiers, 2024.;BAR;it;Mus11;45;en

Prepared by: Sofia Barchiesi, Marina Minozzi
Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez

MWNF Working Number: IT1 59