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Sebastiano del Piombo, Portrait of a Lady with the Attributes of Saint Agatha

Key facts
Full title Portrait of a Lady with the Attributes of Saint Agatha
Artist Sebastiano del Piombo
Artist dates about 1485 - 1547
Date made early 1530s
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 92.4 × 75.3 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Holwell Carr Bequest, 1831
Inventory number NG24
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Portrait of a Lady with the Attributes of Saint Agatha
Sebastiano del Piombo

The lady in the picture is shown with the attributes of Saint Agatha, the third-century Sicilian martyr who was reported to have been tortured for rejecting the marriage proposal of the Roman governor. A dish with Agatha’s severed breasts and the pliers used to remove them are depicted on the right. However, technical examination of the painting has shown that the breasts, pliers, martyr’s palm and halo are later additions, suggesting that the work was originally a portrait, although the sitter remains unidentified.

The letter ‘F’ before the name ‘Sebastianus’ in the signature shows that this work was painted in or after the year 1531, when Sebastiano del Piombo (‘Sebastiano of the Seal’) became the bearer of the papal seal and adopted the honorific title associated with that role: frate (friar). The painting of the lady’s dress and hair are well preserved although the flesh areas are now damaged and have a greyish appearance.

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