Images of women martyrs have always been popular in art. Their stories are ripe with dramatic moments that capture the imaginations of both artist and audience. The subject also offers examples of moral virtue. Images of martyrs could be used as teaching tools for women in the early modern era, visually showcasing the moral ideals that they should embody.
Because of this didactic nature, female martyrs are often depicted in one of two ways: the moment of her martyrdom, or as if a portrait, surrounded by symbols. Showcasing the female martyr in the moment of her death offers the audience a dramatic story, while a portrait clearly illustrates the appropriate virtues for the viewer.
The subjects of today’s post, the Milwaukee Art Museum’s recent acquisition The Martyrdom of St. Justina of Padua, will let us look at this subject matter more closely.