LOTTO, Lorenzo
(b. ca. 1480, Venezia, d. 1556, Loreto)

St Lucy Altarpiece

Oil on wood, 243 x 237 cm
Pinacoteca Civica, Iesi

The picture shows the central panel of the St Lucy Altarpiece. The altarpiece was commissioned by the Confraternity of Santa Lucia of Iesi in 1523, however, the execution started only in 1528 and ended in 1532. The predella was constituted by three panels, from left to right: St Lucy at the Tomb of St Agatha; St Lucy before Paschasius and St Lucy Harnessed to Oxen; Teams of Oxen. The altarpiece was placed in the church of St Florian at Iesi, and it was transferred to the museum in 1861 (both the main panel and the predella panels).

Now over fifty years old, Lotto tended to tone down the bright colours with a dimmer gradation of light. The scene is depicted through various minor episodes, but the narration is brought alive, above all, by the interior pathos of the protagonists, who are all characterised with great sentimental acuity.

Unusual for the period, the main panel of the altarpiece shows not a timeless group of saints, nor even a scene from the life of Christ or the Virgin Mary, but an episode in the life of St Lucy belonging to the same narrative sequence as the scenes in the predella. In depicting the story Lotto faithfully followed the account given in the Golden Legend, compiled in the late thirteenth century by Jacobus da Voragine, and by the early sixteenth century widely available in Italian translation.

The story of St Lucy begins in the left predella panel, in which the future saint, daughter of a noble family in Syracuse, visits the shrine of St Agatha with her mother Euthicia, who for four years has been suffering from an incurable issue of blood. The two women kneel near an altar during the celebration of mass, during which the priest reads the passage from the gospel describing the miraculous cure by Jesus of the woman suffering from the same affliction as Euthicia. Euthicia prays at the shrine for a similar cure while Lucy, asleep, experiences a vision of St Agatha surrounded by angels. When she awakens, Lucy cures her mother, and begs to be released from her promise to marry, so that she can give away her dowry to the poor. The story in this panel closes with the women distributing alms to beggars in rag.

The scene in the first predella panel is set in a Renaissance church, the architectural spaces of which provide distinct areas for the successive events. St Lucy is represented four times, she is identifiable by her yellow robe, red cloak, and laurel crown.

The second scene is restricted to a narrow field on the left of the central predella panel, bounded by the green curtain. Lucy's fiancé, enraged by losing her dowry, complained to the Roman consul Paschasius, who now questions Lucy about her religious beliefs and demands that she worship idols. After an angry altercation, Paschasius orders her to be removed to a brothel.

The story continues on the main panel of the altarpiece which depicts St Lucy Seized by the Panders. In this scene Paschasius summons the panders to "invite the crowd to have pleasure with this woman, and let them abuse her body until she dies; but the panders tried to carry her off, the Holy Ghost made her so heavy that they were unable to move her." At the extreme right, partly cut by the frame, the disappointed fiancé assists the panders in their fruitless efforts.

The story then moves back to the predella where the right-hand section of the central predella panel unites with the right panel, with its atmospheric townscape, to form a single extended scene. Paschasius furiously orders her to dragged away by teams of oxen. Again the Holy Ghost (the white dove) intervenes on Lucy's behalf. The extension of this fourth scene across more than half of the width of the entire predella, represents a highly original approach to predella design. No less than eight teams of powerful oxen are represented in the predella.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.