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Luca Giordano, The Martyrdom of Saint Januarius

Key facts
Full title The Martyrdom of Saint Januarius
Artist Luca Giordano
Artist dates 1634 - 1705
Date made about 1690
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 106.7 × 80.6 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1962
Inventory number NG6327
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Martyrdom of Saint Januarius
Luca Giordano

This painting was made as a preliminary study for an altarpiece for S. Spirito dei Napoletani in Rome, where resident and visiting Neapolitans worshipped. The altarpiece was intended for a chapel dedicated to Saint Januarius, patron saint of Naples, who was martyred along with some of his followers during the persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Diocletian in AD 305.

Giordano presents us with the moment immediately before the saint’s decapitation. He kneels on a high rock at the very centre of the painting, which forms a sort of natural sacrificial altar. At its base are the bodies of those who have gone before him. The saint’s arms are open in supplication while, behind him, the executioner is already drawing his sword ready to strike the blow.

Januarius’s death is anticipated by an angel, who has just arrived at speed and holds a pose which echoes that of the saint. In the angel’s left hand is a palm leaf – the emblem of martyrdom.

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