The Martyrdom of Saint Lucy

The Martyrdom of Saint Lucy
etching and engraving, circa 1613-16, on laid paper, unidentified Circle watermark, a very early, brilliant impression, printing with great clarity and strong contrasts, with much plate tone towards the sheet edges, trimmed to or just outside the subject
Sheet 453 x 350 mm.
Unidentified initials CB in brown ink recto (not in Lugt).
Kupferstichkabinett des großherzoglichen Museums zu Schwerin, Mecklenburg, Germany, with their stamp (Lugt 2273) and de-accession stamp (Lugt 1079); their sale, Hollstein & Puppel, Berlin, 18-20 November 1926, lot 74 ('prachtvoller und vorzüglicher Abdruck (...) mit Rändchen, Ecken beschädigt', with another).
Dr Ludwig Burchard (1886-1960), Mainz and London (not in Lugt).
Christie's, London, 9 December 1998, lot 8.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Walch 16; Hartley-Griffiths 12; Robert-Dumesnil 15

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Tim Schmelcher
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Lot Essay

The martyrdom of Saint Lucy takes place amongst a multitude of figures, arranged across several levels of the picture plane.
The composition of the scene is dominated by a diagonal, from the soldier with his arm outstretched holding a dagger at lower right, across the saint, to the statue of Diana at upper left. The way the soldier with his elaborate headdress turns his head to the viewer leads one to speculate whether this is in fact Bellange's self-portrait. The statue of Diana, Roman goddess of the hunt and chastity, holds in her hand a smoking oil lamp. The presence of the statue symbolises Lucy's virtues, while the burning lamp is a direct reference to the etymology of Lucy's name, meaning 'way of light' (lucis via).
According to the Legenda Aurea by Jacopo da Varagine - a collection of hagiographies, widely popular in Medieval Europe -, Lucy suffered her martyrdom in Syracuse, probably during the Diocletianic persecution. She was denounced by her fiancé to the Roman consul Paschasius, because she distributed her wealth to the poor in gratitude for a miracle of Saint Agatha. The Roman consul condemned her to countless tortures - including to be dragged by oxen to a brothel, burning her alive, boiling her in oil, etc. -, which she miracolously survived. Eventually, she succumbed to a stab of a dagger to her throat.
In Bellange's large and virtuoso etching, the saint is depicted with her hands tied, as the dagger is plunged into her neck. She is depicted with her eyes still open, thus following the account in the Legenda Aurea that she only died after Diocletian was overthrown and peace restored.
The silhouettes and traits of many of the figures in the present composition resemble the cast of the other larger prints by Bellange. The overall arrangment of the figures may have been inspired by Anton Eisenhout's engraving of the Ecce Homo after Taddeo Zuccaro, while Bellange's figures as such are closely related to the Northern Mannerist style of Jan Muller's engravings after Bartholomeus Spranger (Bartsch 1 & 69).

Griffiths and Hartley (1997, p. 73) describe a very early impression of the print (Prouté Collection, Paris) as having 'smudgy margins' and lacking 'some of the burnishing found in later impressions. This is particularly evident in the hand holding Lucy's hair, which has apparently been burnished to make it more distinct, but some of the highlights on the faces in the middle ground may also have been burnished'.
The comparison with other impressions in major public collections (including British Museum, London; Albertina, Vienna; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), reveals that the hand, the dagger in her chest and other details in the middle ground are still unburnished in the present example. There is also a heavy plate tone towards the sheet edges, especially at upper left, indicative of the 'smudgy margins' mentioned by Griffiths and Hartley; and burr-like marks of stray ink in the angel at upper right and elsewhere, which we have not found in other impressions. These traits, together with the outstanding overall quality of the printing, are indicative of this being a very early impression indeed.

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