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Fermo, Civic Art Gallery - Jacobello del Fiore, Story of the Life of Saint Lucy



The eight paintings which originally must have been part of an antependium painted between 1410 and 1412, were attributed by Bernard Berenson to Jacobello del Fiore only around 1932. The first testimonies relating to the work date from 1763, when it was attested in an inventory of Saint Lucy's Church in Fermo. The paintings which depict eight episodes of the life of Saint Lucy were conservatively restored in 1950, making it possible to appreciate the refulgent beauty of the works, which are pervaded by a strictly Gothic style that reminds us in some ways of the oriental Byzantine culture. The first painting depicts the moment in which Saint Agatha appears to the young Lucy to pre-announce her mother's healing and predict that in the future she would be patron saint of the city of Syracuse. In the second Lucy is at the door of a tall, narrow building with high crenellated walls behind which we can see the tops of luxuriant trees. The young woman is depicted in the act of giving her possessions to the sick and the poor because, after she has seen that her mother Eutichia has really healed, she decides to renounce marriage and wealth to consecrate her life to Christ. The third painting tells the story of the moment when Lucy's betrothed, irritated by her decision, accuses her before the consul Paschasius of having embraced the Christian religion, which was absolutely forbidden under the rule of Emperor Diocletian. In the first three paintings Gothic-style architectural structures are represented, but these are depicted in an approximate manner, almost as if they were simply pieces of furniture or a simple scenic setting designed to concentrate all our attention on the events recounted masterfully by Jacobello. The subsequent paintings however, are set in an open space, consisting only of a few rocks and a verdant mantle of grass which with its wealth of details recalls those of French tapestries woven in the mille-fleurs style. The fourth painting depicts a large group of men who together with a few oxen are trying to move Lucy towards a brothel which, in Roman times, was a place set aside for venal sexual pleasure. According to tradition none of them managed to move her because the Holy Spirit had made her too heavy. In the fifth painting the young woman is subjected to martyrdom by fire, but our attention seems to fall on the consul Paschasius and the man next to him. The Venetian painter has indeed reproduced with a wealth of details the sumptuous clothes of the two characters who can be considered a vivid example of clothing in the early 15th century. The sixth painting depicts the moment in which Lucy is subjected to yet another punishment, which consists of stabbing the young woman in the throat with a sharp sword. The last torment, before dying, is inflicted on her by a man who seems not to have his feet on the grassy mantle. Perhaps this is simply an expedient to attribute greater violence to the deed which will lead the young woman to sacrificial death for her faith. The seventh painting presents the moment in which Lucy receives communion under the gaze of a distant Eternal Father, ready to welcome her to his Heavenly Dwelling. Particularly worthy of attention are the two people observing the sacrament of the Eucharist from behind the priest. One is standing with his back to us, his face carefully hidden by a large grey hood, and the other is standing wrapped in an elegant turquoise robe edged in red, staring at an indistinct point with a severe, icy gaze. The last painting depicts the funeral of the saint which takes place in the presence of the bishop who blesses her before burial. Behind him stand two men who seem to be talking and not paying attention to the dramatic moment of the burial. While one is identifiable as the consul Paschasius, the other seems to be the individual with the austere look present in the previous painting. Particularly noteworthy are the fourth and fifth episodes, behind which are depicted Saint Anthony the Abbot and Saint Lucy who for the first time shows her eyes on a golden plate.