PROCACCINI, Giulio Cesare
(b. 1574, Bologna, d. 1625, Milano)

Matyrdom of St Rufina and St Seconda

c. 1625
Oil on canvas, 192 x 192 cm
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

This painting is commonly referred to as the Three-hand Painting ("Quadro delle tre mani") as it was made simultaneously by three painters: Giulio Cesare Procaccini, from Emilia but who moved to Milan when very young, and Giovanni Battista Crespi (Il Cerano) and Morazzone from Lombardy, two of the finest painters in the Lombard school between the 16th and 17th centuries. They managed to transform this painting, refusing the rigid models of the Counter-Reformation by adopting a dynamic, expressive approach which was sometimes clearly theatrical.

The painting shows the martyrdom of two saints: Rufina, who is still alive, is shown just an instant before the executioner's sword strikes her white neck. She is comforted by an angel who, with a hand pointing up towards the sky, appears to reassure her of the reward which will soon be hers for her suffering on earth. The other saint is Seconda, who lies already decapitated.