CAIRO, Francesco del
(b. 1607, Milano, d. 1665, Milano)

The Martyrdom of St Euphemia

c. 1660
Oil on canvas, 193 x 223 cm
Private collection

The subject of this canvas is rarely treated in painting. It illustrates the martyrdom of St Euphemia, described in detail by Jacopo da Voragine in the Golden Legend. The episode takes place at the time of Diocletian and the early Christian martyrs. After several unsuccessful attempts to eliminate Euphemia, who did not wish to abjure her Christian faith, she was thrown "into a pit where there were three wild beasts so ferocious that they would swallow any man", but amazingly they did her no harm. An executioner was then sent to drive "his sword into Euphemia's side, thus making her a martyr for Christ. To reward the headsman for his service, the judge draped him in a silk garment and girded him with a gold belt, but as the man went out, he was snatched by a lion and devoured by the same".

Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, this painting was attributed to Titian or Veronese.