Completed Continental European after 1800, Continental European before 1800 21 It likely depicts Saint Januarius, but is anything more known about this painting?

Topic: Subject or sitter

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.

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The subject has been identified as ‘The Martyrdom of Saint Ignatius of Antioch’. The artist record has been changed from ‘unknown’ to ‘probably Spanish School’. It has been dated 17th–18th century.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


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." ( 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!)

Al Brown,

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.

Al Brown,

I hasten to add that I think Andrew's suggestion of St Ignatius of Antioch seems even more likely.

Tim Williams,

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.

Jade Audrey King,

This discussion is now linked to the 'Continental European before 1800' group.

Patty Macsisak,

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."

Patty Macsisak,

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.

Osmund Bullock,

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!

Superficial research into Catholic bishop's vestments suggest St Ignatius is wearing a rochet (with narrow sleeves) rather than a surplice. As Patty Macsisak suggested some months ago, its length would give an indication of the painting's date. Wikipedia suggests that the rochet's length, although below the knee now, previously shortened through time and in the 18th and 19th centuries was above the knee, as in the painting.

As the quality suggests, it is at best a copy of or derived from another painting or print, presumably from a Catholic country and probably of the 18th century.

So, presumably, the suggestion is that this be retitled ' The Martyrdom of St Ignatius of Antioch' but is 'Continental school, 18th century' as good as one hazard for artist and date?

Riccardo Lattuada,

The work depicts The Martyrdom of St Ignatius of Antiochia: St January was not devoured by lions in an amphitheater but beheaded in the Solfatara (Pozzuoli). The scroll with the inscription 'NUNC INCIPIO' quotes Saint Ignatius' letter to the Romans: "“Nunc incípio Christi esse discípulus, nihil de his quæ vidéntur, desíderans, ut Jesum Christum invéniam", etc. The iconography of St Ignatius of Antiochia goes up to greek-byzantine prototypes (see image here attached), but a XVIIth Century interpretation was given by Francesco Fracanzano in his picture at the Galleria Borghese in Rome (see photo here attched), often wrongly entitled 'Martyrdom of St January'. Our work seems datable circa 1590-1620 and seems to show some Spanish style characters.

Thanks: wonderful images, esp. the compositional precedent provided by the Graeco-Byzantine one, so what are further views on 'perhaps Spanish, circa 1600' rather than 'Continental, 18th century.'?

The subject has been correctly identified as the ‘Martyrdom of St Ignatius of Antioch’, probably Spanish 17th-18th century. Given the rather poor artistic quality a precise attribution seems unlikely.