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Francisco de Zurbarán, Saint Margaret of Antioch

Key facts
Full title Saint Margaret of Antioch
Artist Francisco de Zurbarán
Artist dates 1598 - 1664
Date made 1630-4
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 163 × 105 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1903
Inventory number NG1930
Location Room 30
Collection Main Collection
Saint Margaret of Antioch
Francisco de Zurbarán

The fourth-century saint Margaret of Antioch was cast out by her father, a pagan priest, when she converted to Christianity. She was left to fend for herself tending sheep.

She’s dressed as a wealthy shepherdess, with a lambskin jacket over her picturesque costume and a straw hat fashionably cocked on her head. Zurbarán shows her holding a crook and a prayer book, with a colourful saddlebag – of a type made by peasant weavers – over one arm.

The saint seems oblivious to the snarling dragon – Satan in disguise – at her feet; she gazes directly towards us with a sober, determined expression. According to the Golden Legend, a medieval compilation of saints' biographies, the beast devoured her. She burst from its belly unharmed and later assumed the role of patron saint of childbirth.

The strong lighting emphasises her flawless skin and the rich colours and textures of her clothing, but also the dragon’s scales, piercing eyes and pointed fangs.

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