Initial I: A Martyr Saint
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Lippo Vanni
Italian, Siena, about 1350 - 1375
Tempera colors and gold leaf on parchment
11 7/8 x 4 1/2 in.

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The elegant figure of this saint, which fully dominates the space of the initial I , is notable for its strong, monumental bearing. The artist employed a warm, glowing palette of gold and orange, endowing the figure with a luminous quality appropriate to a holy person.

The initial, cut from an antiphonal, probably introduced a generic text devoted to martyrs, which was individualized by the insertion of a particular saint's name. The saint shown is thus not a specific person but a composite martyr accompanied by the attributes of a number of saints who died for the Christian faith. The wool comb at the figure's feet was an instrument used to torture Saint Blasius, the rocks could refer to the stoning of Saint Stephen, the fire may refer to Saint Lawrence who was roasted alive, and the swords could indicate any number of martyr saints. Finally, the palm frond is a symbol of the martyr's triumph over death in the Christian afterlife.