(b. 1610, Como, d. 1686, Roma)

St Agnes on the Pyre

Marble, over life-size
Sant'Agnese in Agone, Rome

According to tradition, Saint Agnes was a member of the Roman nobility born c. 291 and raised in a Christian family. She suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve or thirteen during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, on 21 January 304. The Prefect Sempronius wished Agnes to marry his son, and on Agnes' refusal he condemned her to death. When led out to die she was tied to a stake, but the flames parted away from her, whereupon the officer in charge of the troops drew his sword and beheaded her.

Ferrata's high altar sculpture, representing St Agnes on the pyre, bears unmistakable, though not entirely reconciled, elements drawn from Algardi and Bernini. The saint's pose is indebted to one of Algardi's most emotive works, the St Mary Magdalene, but the head and drapery are more classically correct. These elements are overlaid by two touches worthy of Bernini: the fire at St Agnes's feet and the drapery billowing out for no apparent reason behind her shoulders. The result is a work whose impact is weakened by overly theatrical gestures.