A Marble Figure of St Cecilia


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Object Description

After Stefano Maderno (1576-1636)
Italian, 19th century
Saint Cecilia
46 cm. / 18 ins long

This marble figure is after the figure of the female martyr in the church of S. Cecilia in Trastevere, Rome, completed in 1600 by Stefano Maderno.

In 1599 the supposed remains of Saint Cecilia were found inside a marble sarcophagus inscribed with her name during excavation works in her eponymous church. As a result of this miraculous discovery, the titular head of S. Cecilia commissioned Maderno to carve a sculpture of the saint and to reconstruct the high altar of the church, underneath which the relic of Saint Cecilia was to be reinterred. Maderno chose to represent the saint in a recumbent pose that supposedly reflects the position of her body upon its burial and subsequent rediscovery.

The dramatic elements of the statue, such as the vivid rendering of the drops of blood and the imaginative placement of the figure in a tomb-like marble recess in the centre of the altar, mark Maderno’s Saint Cecilia as a turning-point in Counter-Reformation sculpture and presage the innovations of the Baroque. Indeed, the recumbent figure of Saint Cecilia served as a model for some of the most famous works of Baroque sculpture, most notably Gianlorenzo Bernini’s The Blessed Ludovica Albertoni (1671-74, San Francesco a Ripa).

The present reduction, carved in white Carrara marble, repeats the main elements of the original, such as the long folds of drapery curled tightly around the body, the drops of blood coursing from the throat and the serene face with eyes closed on the opposite side. It is comparable in quality and dimensions with other nineteenth-century Italian marble reproductions, such as an example in Ushaw House, England (acc. no. UCI:2126).

Saint Cecilia is one of the most famous Roman virgin martyrs of the early Christian church and the patron saint of music and musicians. According to tradition, she was from a noble Roman family who, as a child, made a vow to God to be a virgin. When she was married she proved her faith to her pagan husband, Valerian, by revealing an angel to him. Valerian and his brother were martyred for their conversion to Christianity and Cecilia, after distributing her possessions to the poor, was first put on a fire, which failed to kill her, and subsequently beheaded. During her wedding, it is said that she “sang in her heart to the Lord” and in art, as the patron saint of music, she is often depicted playing the organ.

Object Literature

John Pope-Hennessy, Italian High Renaissance and Baroque Sculpture, 2 vols. London, 1963, pp. 136-37, pl. 159

Object Details

Dealer Opening Times

By appointment only.

Dealer Contact

+44 (0)7768 395500
+44 (0)7768 395500

Dealer Location

London W1 (Mayfair), by appointment.

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