The Martyrdom of Saint Cecilia (Cartoon for a Fresco)

Artist: Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri) (Italian, Bologna 1581–1641 Naples)

Date: 1612–14

Medium: Charcoal highlighted with white chalk on fourteen sheets of blue laid paper, two of the sheets cut from elsewhere on the original cartoon and reset at the left and right margins to make up the oval

Dimensions: Irregular oval: 67 13/16 × 59 9/16 in. (172.2 × 151.3 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Wrightsman Fund, 1998

Accession Number: 1998.211


Domenichino trained at the Carracci Academy in Bologna before moving to Rome in 1602. His paintings were extolled as paradigms of Baroque classicism—the grand, heroic style epitomized by the art of Raphael—especially his scenes from the life of the early Christian martyr Saint Cecilia in the Polet Chapel in San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome. Those widely admired frescoes were revered above all by generations of French painters, from Poussin to Ingres, who journeyed to Rome.
The Museum's Martyrdom of Saint Cecilia is a monumental cartoon—a design on paper used to transfer an image to the surface to be painted—for the fresco on the chapel's left wall. Characterized by a lucid clarity and sculptural monumentality of form, the composition depicts the dying saint gazing heavenward, attended by her maidservant and two male onlookers. A number of pentimenti (changes), particularly in the saint's head and right arm, indicate that the artist continued to revise the composition. Appreciated early in its history as a work of art in its own right, the cartoon was cut into its present shape and framed by 1705 or 1706.
Pierre Polet, the French priest who commissioned the frescoes, had a particular devotion to Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music, which Domenichino (whose arcane interests included ancient music) evidently shared. His numerous depictions of her all drew inspiration from Raphael's canonic Ecstasy of Saint Cecilia, painted for the Church of San Giovanni in Monte in Domenichino's native Bologna.