(b. 1517/24, Pomarance, d. 1596, Citta di Pieve)
San Stefano Rotondo, Rome
The centrally planned sixth-century church of San Stefano Rotondo was restored under Gregory XIII, partly in accordance with his papal bull of 1580 uniting the colleges for German and Hungarian Jesuits at the site. Around the periphery of the interior of the church, Niccolò Circignani, who had worked for the pope at the Vatican Palace, led a team of artists that painted a fresco cycle of thirty-one scenes of explicitly graphic martyrdoms. Beginning with Christ's Crucifixion, it continues through the execution of the Apostles and early Christian saints - appropriate subjects for the Early Christian martyrial structure. The cycle derives from a book commissioned by Ignatius of Loyola to instruct the faithful and to provide a focus for meditation on the Gospel stories through both notes and images. The frescoes are notable for their blatant didacticism, uniting words to images. Each martyrdom carries a hortatory biblical inscription across the top and each has double caption below - one text in Latin, another translating Latin into Italian - which identifies the figures in the painting.
The series of frescoes were engraved by Giovanni Battista de' Cavalieri and published in a book by Bartolomeo Grassi in 1585 in Rome. At the beginning of the 17th century, the book was reworked in a laterally reversed format by Jan van Haelbeck and published in Paris by Jean Leclerc.