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Renaissance Top 48: St. James led to Martyrdom


Andrea Mantegna, Saint James Led to Martyrdom, Ovetari Chapel, Church of the Eremitani, Padua, Italy, 1454-1457.

Fresco, 14' x 11'


James won the crown of martyrdom 14 years after his prophecy. 

St. James suffered martyrdom.

As James was led to the place of martyrdom, his accuser was brought to repent of his conduct by the apostle's extraordinary courage and undauntedness, and fell down at his feet to request his pardon, professing himself a Christian, and resolving that James should not receive the crown of martyrdom alone. Hence they were both beheaded at the same time. 


Shows St. James on his way to his execution.

To the left the Saint blesses a kneeling man, perhaps the figure of Josiah. 

Josiah was a scribe converted by St. James when he witnessed the saint healing a paralysed man. 

In the center, a Roman soldier witnesses these events and separates the main protagonists in the drama from the crowd of figures to the right. 

The condemned Saint stops on his way to his own death to bless a man who has rushed from the crowd and kneels before him. The Roman soldier nearest to James raises his hands in astonishmeny at the healing miracle he has just witnessed. A second soldier restrains others from coming forward. 



Mantegna emphasizes the figures with lines in pen and ink. 

The bodies have a more naturalistic form with the way Mantegna drew them. 


He ignored rules of perspective. He deliberately did not make the vertical lines of the buildings converge toward the top, as they should when seen from below, in order to maintain a harmony between the vertical lines of the buildings in his painting and th elines of the Ovetari chapel. 


Mantegna was preoccupied with perspective. He liked to set up difficult perspective problems for the joy and the challenge of solving the problem. He wanted to create the illusion of the scene unfolding before the viewer from the "worm's eye view".

Placed in the Chapel. 

Historical authenticity rather than narrative was Mantegna's primary concern with this fresco.