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Portrait of a Lady with the Attributes of Saint Agatha

Photo credit: The National Gallery, London

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The lady in the picture is shown with the attributes of Saint Agatha, the third-century Sicilian martyr who was reported to have been tortured for rejecting the marriage proposal of the Roman governor. A dish with Agatha’s severed breasts and the pliers used to remove them are depicted on the right. However, technical examination of the painting has shown that the breasts, pliers, martyr’s palm and halo are later additions, suggesting that the work was originally a portrait, although the sitter remains unidentified. The letter ‘F’ before the name ‘Sebastianus’ in the signature shows that this work was painted in or after the year 1531, when Sebastiano del Piombo (‘Sebastiano of the Seal’) became the bearer of the papal seal and adopted the honorific title associated with that role: frate (friar).

The National Gallery, London



Portrait of a Lady with the Attributes of Saint Agatha


about 1540


Oil on canvas


H 92.4 x W 75.3 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Holwell Carr Bequest, 1831

Work type



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The National Gallery, London

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