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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 National Gallery, London
Portrait of a Lady with the Attributes of Saint Agatha
Oil on canvas
H 92.4 x W 75.3 cm
Holwell Carr Bequest, 1831