(b. 1560, Bologna, d. 1609, Roma)
The Martyrdom of St Stephen1603-04
Oil on canvas, 51 x 68 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris
This small panel showing the martyrdom of St Stephen reveals a very different side of Annibale's art, and one that fully confirms his consummate skill in applying the stylistic means appropriate to the theme.
Before the walls of the city, a group of men has gathered to execute Stephen, a deacon of Christian faith. The martyr is already on his knees and bleeding. He pays no heed to the stones being brandished menacingly against him, for already an angel is floating towards him bearing the crown and palm frond of the martyr. It is a celestial messenger from the golden realms of heaven which can be seen beyond the parted clouds, revealing a glimpse of God and Christ, who - visible only to the saint - have appeared to witness his martyrdom. A number of individual movements over a broad area have been skilfully drawn together against a sweeping landscape background.
The great finesse of this painting with its meticulous draughtsmanship and its strong yet delicate colority reveals a mastery of compositional organization capable of lending superb form to a dramatic event.