Martyrdom of St. Lawrence

WAG 873


St. Lawrence, a Christian priest in 3rd-century Rome, is traditionally said to have been roasted alive for his faith. Here his martyrdom is being watched by the Roman Emperor Valerian, who carries a sceptre. All the figures wear elaborate 16th-century dress. At an early date, the faces of several of the saint’s tormentors have been deliberately damaged. This is an unusually brutal painting from William Roscoe’s collection. His 19th-century contemporaries noted that he usually favoured more gentle images, especially ones of the Virgin and Child. Roscoe bought this painting from the Liverpool art dealer John Robinson Blakey, when Blakey retired in 1812. Blakey described it as ‘a very curious specimen of an early period of art’, by an unknown painter. Roscoe believed it was by the northern Netherlands painter and printmaker, Lucas van Leyden (about 1494-1533). He probably thought this because the turbaned executioner in the painting is similar to a figure in a print by Lucas, which Roscoe owned. Later art historians have attributed the painting either to the North Netherlandish painter Cornelius Engebrechtszon (about 1465-1527), or the unidentified South Netherlandish artist known as the Master of the von Groote Adoration (active in Antwerp 1510-1520). This image shows God crowning Mary as the Queen of Heaven. This event is not described in the Bible but was a popular subject in art. This work was once part of the top of a larger altarpiece. The elaborate decoration on the frame is not fully original. It was probably altered in the 19th century. This is one of the artworks presented by the Liverpool Royal Institution. Liverpool’s economic development grew directly from Britain’s involvement with transatlantic slavery: the kidnapping, enslavement and forced migration of people from West Africa to the Americas and many to the Caribbean. Many members of the Royal Institution made their fortunes directly through the trade or indirectly through the wider economy. This wealth was largely how they were able to bring rare art and treasures, such as this, to the city.