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Adam Elsheimer, Saint Lawrence prepared for Martyrdom

Key facts
Full title Saint Lawrence prepared for Martyrdom
Artist Adam Elsheimer
Artist dates 1578 - 1610
Date made about 1600-1
Medium and support Oil on copper
Dimensions 26.7 × 20.6 cm
Acquisition credit Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876
Inventory number NG1014
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Saint Lawrence prepared for Martyrdom
Adam Elsheimer

On the orders of the pope, Saint Lawrence, a deacon of the early Christian Church, distributed church property to the poor in Rome. When the Roman authorities discovered what he was doing, they ordered him to hand over the treasures to the city. He refused, and when pressed to give up his Christian faith or face execution, he chose death. He was killed in AD 258.

Here the saint is being stripped of his clothes in preparation for being roasted alive; to the right, two men stoke a fire beneath a gridiron. The figure in the red and gold robes is the Roman Emperor Decius. A Roman priest in a dark hooded cloak stands between emperor and saint, and points to a statue of Hercules, a mythological hero of antiquity. Lawrence’s expression suggests he is in a state of spiritual ecstasy: he looks towards an angel who points to heaven, the inspiration of his strength.

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