Victor Orsel (French, 1795–1850)
Martyrdom of a Female Saint
Graphite on paper, 5 3/4 x 4 3/8 in.
Stamped lower left: V. ORSEL
Gift of DeCourcy E. McIntosh
Orsel was celebrated above all else for his religious compositions. Such works won him a gold medal at the Paris Salon in 1831 and to this day can be seen in the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière in Lyon and Notre-Dame-de-Lorette in Paris––the latter having inspired the critic Martin-Daussigny to write that “Orsel is an artist whom Christian France can place beside the Poussins and Lesueuers.” The present work appears to be a preparatory sketch depicting the martyrdom of Saint Agnes, or another woman who faced a similar death, such as Saint Lucy or Saint Afra. Saint Agnes devoted herself to Christ at age thirteen and refused to marry the son of a Roman prefect or renounce her faith. After various trials, Agnes was eventually sentence to die by being burnt alive, but the fire refused to burn her. Instead, the executioner was made to stab her in the neck or decapitate her, as we see in this work.