Monday, June 11


St. Justina of Padua. Fragment of a larger work by Bartolomeo Montagna, c. 1490. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I am tremendously fond of this wonderfully elegant image of a beautiful virgin-martyr, particular the half-contemplative, half-skeptical glance she is giving the viewer, as if to say, "Is this the best you can do for God?" As I am currently at work on an image of St. Agatha (a real commission, no less!), I rather think it might do well to convey the serene yet sharp-edged and sharp-tongued contempt she had for the paganism of her judges, so vividly recorded in The Golden Legend:
Saint Agatha said: Thou sayst that they be gods because thy wife was such an one as was Venus, thy goddess, and thou thyself as Jupiter, which was an homicide and evil.

Quintianus said: It appeareth well that thou wilt suffer torments, in that thou sayst to me villainy.

Saint Agatha said: I marvel much that so wise a man is become such a fool, that thou sayest of them to be thy gods, whose life thou ne thy wife will follow. If they be good I would that thy life were like unto theirs; and if thou refusest their life, then art thou of one accord with me. Say then that they be evil and so foul, and forsake their living, and be not of such life as thy gods were.

Quintianus said: What goest thou thus vainly speaking? make sacrifice unto the gods, or if thou do not I shall make thee to die by divers torments. Saint Agatha abode firm and stable in the faith. Then Quintianus did do put her in a dark prison, and she went also gladly, and with as good will as she had been prayed to go to a wedding.

On the morning Quintianus made her to be brought tofore him in judgment, and said to her: Agatha, how art thou advised for thy health?

She answered: Christ is mine health.

Quintianus said: Deny Christ thy God, by which thou mayest escape thy torments.

Saint Agatha answered: Nay, but reny thou thine idols which be of stones and of wood, and adore thy maker, that made heaven and earth, and if thou do not thou shalt be tormented in the perpetual fire in hell.
Though, getting back to dear Justina, I will say the perspectival halo is mildly ridiculous.

Image Source.

St. Justina is also shown in art with a unicorn, an animal of considerable Christological significance, and also an ancient symbol of purity in its own right. One particularly late appearance of this attribute can be seen in this delightful and placidly meditative painting of her with a kneeling donor by Bonvicino.

St. Justina, adored by the donor. Alessandro Bonvicino, 1530. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

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