Martyrdom of St. Lawrence
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).