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“Holy Wives” de Zurbaran: What secrets are kept female portraits of the famous painter of the XVII century

The cycle of female portraits of Francisco de Zurbaran called “Holy Wives” for almost 400 years has attracted the audience not only by masterful painting performance, but also by terrible secrets. So, behind the image of each saint is fate, as a rule, very cruel and merciless. The short life of almost every one of them was tragically cut short by torture, humiliation and execution.

Gallery of images of the holy martyrs Zurbaran
Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664) – famous artist of the Golden Age of Spanish culture. The master entered the history of art to a greater extent with his religious painting. Among the artistic heritage of Zurbaran there is one mysterious series of portraits of women saints. The artist created this cycle in an unusual manner for that time: single portraits of women dressed in very expensive clothes, with divinely beautiful faces and angels’ eyes. And the objects put in their hands by the artist carry a secret meaning and speak for themselves. The answer lies in the history of the life of each of the heroines who have been martyred for their faith.

Roses in the hem
The most famous portrait in this series is Saint Casilda. It depicts a Muslim girl, richly dressed, with roses in the hem. Many centuries ago, Christians canonized Casilde for mercy and compassion: she secretly carried food to captive Christians, hiding in the folds of her attire. Her terrible father, the approximate reported on the tricks of his daughter, and he tracked her down and forced to show what she was hiding in clothes. What was the surprise of the enraged examiner when Casilda unfolded the hem – there were roses in it. A few years later, Casilda adopted Christianity, lived to be a hundred years old, and pilgrims still go to the place of her burial.

It is also worth noting that the legend of miracles with roses has a repetition in other portraits of Francisco de Zurbaran. This miracle of turning food secretly brought to prisoners into flowers also applies to the legend of the good heart of the Queen of Portugal, Isabella.

Saint Margaret, 1630-1634. London National Gallery.
The girl wearing the clothes of the Spanish national style, wearing a straw hat and a canvas bag over her shoulder, with a staff and a book in her hands is the Holy Great Martyr Margaret of Antioch, the daughter of a pagan priest who lived in the III century in Antioch.

In the distant past of paganism, Margaret accepted Christianity secretly. The ruler of the country, was conquered by a beautiful girl and wanted to marry her. Margarita rejected his proposal, saying that “he cannot become the betrothed of the king of the earth, since he is already the bride of the King of Heaven.” For this, the girl was put behind bars, and the devil, assuming the appearance of a fire-breathing dragon (he can also be seen on the canvas behind the figure of the saint) tortured the girl, and once devoured her. Then the cross, which was firmly gripped in the hands of the unfortunate, suddenly began to grow, and this continued until he ripped the belly turned to the devil. At the place of the death of Margarita leaked holy source.

Saint Agnes, Seville, Museum of Fine Arts.
The young Christian Agnes, a 12-year-old teenage girl who rejected the son of a noble nobleman for the sake of the Christian faith, for which she paid with her life at such a young age, was counted among the saints. In her iconography there is always a guardian angel in the form of a white lamb, because according to legend, during the mockery and torture, he always tried to come to the aid of the great martyr.
However, the penalty could not be avoided. According to one version, Agnes was burned, according to another – she was beheaded.

Holy Eulalia. Museum of Fine Arts, Seville.
Saint Eulalia (290-304), also a very young 13-year-old girl, was subjected to thirteen tortures for refusing to worship the Roman gods. The twelfth torture was a crucifix on an oblique cross, and the thirteenth was a beheading.

Holy Apolonia of Alexandria. Paris, the Louvre.
Holy Apollonia, who lived at the beginning of the 1st century in Alexandria. Being already an old virgin, adopted Christianity. In 249, the new ruler of Alexandria began a harsh persecution and merciless persecution of Christians. Apollonia was also tried to persuade her to renounce her faith, she was beaten on her jaws until all her teeth were knocked out and threatened to be burned alive at the stake.

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