photo credit: Southampton City Art Gallery
This work almost certainly depicts Saint Januarius (San Gennaro). It illustrates the legend of the attempt to martyr the bishop – hence his garments – by having him thrown to lions in the amphitheatre at Pozzuoli. Artemisia Gentileschi also produced a painting of the scene. See links:
The collection comments: ‘The work was part of a large bequest in 1963 and no information came with it.’ Any further information would be welcome.
I believe San Gennaro was supposed to have been killed by bears not lions. These are of course lions, and it is more likely that it is St Ignatius of Antioch. "At the prefect's command, the prisoner was hurried off to the Colosseum, where, we are told, two fierce lions were let out and Ignatius was at once killed. Thus his prayer for a martyr's death was answered." (http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/IGNATIUS.htm). He is indeed commonly depicted with the two lions in the Colosseum.
The phrase 'Nunc incipio' may refer to a quote from one of Ignatius's letters "Nunc incipio discipulus esse" 'Now begin to be a disciple'. (Google's scholarship, not mine, I hasten to add!)
The subject of this work reminded me of the Artemisia Gentileschi so I checked the entry for that painting in the catalogue for the Gentileschi exhibition at The Met from a few years ago - it is no 79 in the catalogue. This work, as a representation of San Gennaro, is not inconsistent with the details presented there.
I hasten to add that I think Andrew's suggestion of St Ignatius of Antioch seems even more likely.
Both these engravings share compositional/iconographical elements with the canvas. Looks like it might have been cut down - left & right lions missing fair bit of body/tail, so perhaps the foreground featured a mitre and crosier also.
This discussion is now linked to the 'Continental European before 1800' group.
No further information is held by the collection on the painting.
The lions resemble the Lion of St. Mark in this engraving.
But the Lion of St Mark is usually, if not always, shown winged -- as in the engraving.
I did not mean to imply that this was a depiction of the Lion of St. Mark, only that there is a resemblance in the lion face and body.
I also want to note that I can find only one other (modern) example of St. Ignatius of Antioch in prayer at the moment of martyrdom.
I came upon a bit of information which may contribute to the date of the painting. The figure above is wearing a surplice which falls mid-thigh.
"The surplice originally reached to the feet, but as early as the 13th century it began to shorten, though as late as the 15th century it still fell to the middle of the shin, and only in the 17th and 18th centuries in Continental Europe did it become considerably shorter."
Several of the spectators along the parapet are wearing head coverings (e.g., 3rd from left is a fez without a turban; 5th from left is a fez with a turban; 7th from right is a turban; 5th from right is the shape of a "smoking cap" but also resembles a crown. Since this individual has a raised hand, he is mostly likely has authority over the event. Each of these head coverings are depicted in "Christian painting of an Old Testament sacrifice" (1483) on the following page:
Why such head coverings would be worn by spectators of a Roman event is curious unless it is meant to convey universal support of his death.
An even closer similarity in composition to the two found in the British Musuem by Tim Williams is an etching by Jacques Callot: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=122766001&objectId=1569476&partId=1, to the extent that this could conceivably have been the source for this loose interpretation.
Excellent find, Andrew, and surely removes any possible doubt as to the subject.
I'm afraid your link has been thwarted again, though - this time by the comma after it. It took me a long time to realize it, but on this forum ANY symbol typed immediately next to the link, before or after, seems to be read as part of it, and usually results in failure. If you want to punctuate you have to leave a rather ugly space first!