Master of Saint Catherine Gualino - Saint Agnes, about 1315

Attributed to Master of Saint Catherine Gualino (active 14th century)

Saint Agnes, about 1315

Polychromed and gilded poplar , 131.4 x 27.3 x 18.7 cm (51 3/4 x 10 3/4 x 7 3/8 in.)


Isabella was a devoted Episcopalian who was drawn to the ceremonial and artistic aspects of Christianity and other religions, which are represented throughout the museum. Although, Christian decorative and liturgical objects dominate among the collection, by far. The Saint Agnes statue was purchased by Isabella while she was in Florence in 1897 from connoisseur and art dealer Stefano Bardini (1836-1922). In Europe painted wood sculptures from this time and place often represent sacred figures from Christianity. As objects of prayer and devotion, the sculptures were created to look alive. Historical accounts recorded several instances of such sculptures appearing to speak, bleed, move or cry. Teams of specialized artists collaborated on these sculptures in workshops by first intricately carving blocks of wood and then adding paint and gilding (gold decoration). This particular sculpture depicting Saint Agnes is painted with vermilion mixed with lead white, and the gold decoration is gold leaf applied on top of tin leaf. Saint Agnes, also called Saint Agnes of Rome, is the patron saint of girls, and one of the most celebrated Roman martyrs. In her story, she refused marriage, taking only Jesus Christ as her spouse. She refused to renounce her faith and was murdered during the persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Diocletian (245-316).