Rich Paint and Gold Providing an Impressive Visual Context for the Quiet Acceptance of Death by the First of Christ's Followers To Be Martyred

(Verona/the Veneto, ca. 1475). 152 x 146 mm. (6 x 5 3/4").

Mounted in a recessed compartment enclosed by a mat, the whole within a very pleasing 15 1/8 x 12 1/8" new gilt wooden frame. The cutting comprised of a large "S" in different shades of pink with subtle white tracery, the elements of the letter outlined with lush blue and green foliage, the initial against a background of burnished gold, the lower opening of the "S" revealing Stephen, his hands clasped in prayer, blood flowing from his head, in which is embedded a stone, other bloodied stones at his feet, the opening above showing his attackers, both about to cast another lithic missile, behind them hills topped with castles and a walled city, the whole painted in clear, bright colors. Two faint horizontal creases (one above the stoning figures, one through the top of Stephen's head), loss of paint at very edge and in lower corner in the foliate extension, otherwise in very pleasing condition, the colors and gold quite rich, and the three figures extremely well preserved.

This cutting provides a study in contrasts between violence and resignation. Saint Stephen, the young deacon and the first of Christ's followers to suffer martyrdom, is shown here with a bright blond tonsure, an elongated face, and a suffering resigned expression that gives him great individuality. Stephen had argued that the true temple is the temple of the heart, and for this he was stoned, the usual punishment for blasphemy. The artist has cleverly entwined the victim and the attackers in the plump initial "S." Three towers on improbably steep hills jut up behind the stoners, whose actions are vicious and determined. At the same time, we are not appalled by them, partly because of their costumes and expressions. The more youthful of the two, for example, has an enormous red hat (such as a 15th century wastrel might wear) perched on his voluminous pile of hair, and his face, with its cleft chin, snide expression, and round rosy cheeks, is unflattering without being hateful. The size of the initial and its rich paint and gold constitute an impressive visual context for the quiet acceptance of death it encloses.
(ST10994)

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PJP Catalog: 70.459