VERONESE, Paolo
(b. 1528, Verona, d. 1588, Venezia)

Martyrdom of St Justina

1556
Oil on canvas, 104 x 138 cm
Museo Civico, Padua

After Justina had been baptized by Prosdocimo, the first bishop of Padua, she was brought up in the Christian faith. When the Emperor Maximilian came to Padua in 304, Justina heard of his persecutions of Christians, and immediately sought to instill courage in local believers. However, she herself was imprisoned, dragged before the emperor and instructed to sacrifice to Mars, the god of war. Her refusal to do so cost her her life.

With its plethora of figures, the picture is a masterpiece of narration. The action begins in the background with a carriage drawn by two horses, which Justina has just left. She kneels on the bridge to pray, and is caught in a beam of heavenly light. The foreground is taken up with the scene of the martyrdom. Struck by the dagger, the prince's daughter yields humbly to her fate.