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The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence
Valentin de Boulogne (Jean Valentin)
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Valentin de Boulogne (Jean Valentin)

Coulommiers (Brie), 1591 - Rome, 1632

See author's file

The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence

1622 - 1624. Oil on canvas.
Not on display

The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence, 1620s, is the only painting by Valentin de Boulogne in the Museo del Prado. One of his most ambitious works, it was almost certainly painted in the mid 1620s. It depicts the martyrdom of Deacon Lawrence (c.225–258), who was executed on a grill for refusing to surrender the Church´s treasures to Emperor Valerian. Instead, the deacon distributed them among the needy. Appearing before Prefect Cornelius with a group of poor individuals -visible at the left of the composition- he declared that they were the Church´s true treasure. Saint Lawrence appears at the centre of the composition, extending his hand towards the prefect. His figure is the most carefully crafted example of male anatomy in Valentin´s entire career, although it is a body with great muscular tension that does not represent an idealised apollonian nude. Instead, it is probably a faithful representation of a model posing for the artist, a custom established by Caravaggio and his immediate followers in Rome. The saint´s executioners are arranged with a symmetrical use of blue and red, and their postures reflect the effort of carrying coal or firewood and fanning the flames under the grill where the young deacon is to be martyred. One of them blows on the fire through a cane, bringing a virtuosity to the depiction of the flames that recalls Caravaggio´s Denial of Saint Peter, c.1610, (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and the National Gallery of Victoria´s Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence, 1620-24, by Jusepe de Ribera. The present work reflects the enormous effort by Valentin to create a complex scene with many figures, a proletarian tragedy that takes the form of an urban scene of authoritarian oppression and resultant protest and public disorder.

Valentin was born in Coulommiers, some 60 kilometres east of Paris, to a family originally from the northern French coastal city of Boulogne-sur-Mer. He moved to Rome around 1610, where he associated with French and Northern painters in the popular neighbourhood around the Piazza del Popolo. There he followed the tenets of Bartolomeo Manfredi, Caravaggio´s closest follower. Valentin´s repertoire consists mainly of tavern scenes or groups of musicians, but he also painted portraits and allegorical and religious works, including an important altarpiece for St Peter´s Basilica. A tenebrist to the end, he died prematurely in 1632, by which time Caravaggesque painting was no longer in vogue. The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence was first listed in the Spanish Royal Collection in 1666, in the Alcázar Palace in Madrid, attributed to Nicolas Poussin and assigned the high value of 400 silver ducats. Two accompanying works are listed with the same attribution (and were almost certainly by Valentin, as well:) Christ driving the merchants from the Temple and Last Supper. Both were destroyed in the fire that devastated the Alcázar Palace in late 1734 and, of the three, only The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence survives. We do not know how the painting reached the court, but we can speculate that all three were acquired in Rome by a Spanish ambassador or nobleman as a gift to the monarch for the halls of the Alcázar or the new Buen Retiro Palace (Finaldi, G.: Italian Masterpieces. From Spain´s Royal Court, Museo del Prado, 2014, p. 132).

Technical data

Inventory number
Valentin de Boulogne (Jean Valentin)
The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence
1622 - 1624
Height: 195 cm; Width: 261 cm
Royal Collection (Real Alcázar, Madrid, pieza inmediata de las bóvedas que cae debajo de la del despacho de verano, 1686, [nº 750]; Real Alcázar, Madrid, bóvedas bajo el despacho de verano, 1700, nº 409; Real Alcázar, Madrid, pinturas que se hallaron en las bóvedas de palacio, 1734, [nº 229]).

Bibliography +

[Reseña de una entrevista a Roberto Longhi en la revista L'Italia letteraria'], L'Arte, 6, 1935, pp. 161.

Ainaud, J., Ribalta y Caravaggio, Butlleti dels Museus d'Art de Barcelona / Anales y Boletin de los Museos de Arte de Barcelona, 5, 1947, pp. 404.

Ivanoff, N., Valentin de Boulogne, Fratelli Fabbri Editori, Milán, 1966, pp. 5.

Salas, Xavier de, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972.

Caravaggio y el naturalismo español, Comisaría General de Exposiciones de la Dirección, Madrid, 1973.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 80.

Nicolson, Benedict, Caravaggism in Europe, Umberto Allemandi & C., Turín, 1989, pp. lám. 699.

Mojana, Marina, Valentin de Boulogne, 17, Eikonos Edizioni, Milán, 1989, pp. 86.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado. Inventario general de pinturas (I) La Colección Real, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990, pp. 270.

Buendía, José Rogelio, El Prado. Colecciones de Pintura, Lunwerg Editores, Barcelona, 1994, pp. 539.

Salas, Xavier de, Caravaggio y los caravaggistas en la pintura española, Estudios, 2010, pp. 379.

Finaldi, Gabriele, 'Valentin de Boulogne. Un artista francés en la estela de Caravaggio'. En: Maestros en la sombra, Fundación Amigos Museo del Prado, Madrid, 2013, pp. 247-262 [257-258].

Finaldi, G., Valentin de Boulogne ' The Martyrdom of Saint Laurence' En:, Italian masterpieces from Spain's royal court, Museo del Prado, National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, pp. 132.

Martínez Leiva, Gloria; Rodríguez Rebollo, Ángel, El inventario del Alcázar de Madrid de 1666. Felipe IV y su colección artística, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid, 2015, pp. 377 nº 405.

Christiansen, Keith, 'Painting from life. Valentin and the life of Caravaggio' En:, The Metropolitan Museum of Art,, Nueva York, 2016, pp. 43-55 [51-52].

Christiansen, Keith, 'Valentin de Boulogne. Martyrdom of Saint Laurence' En:, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nueva York, 2016, pp. 132-134 n.19.

Kazerouni, Guillaume, "La Francia del Grand Siècle en las colecciones españolas", en Alzaga Ruiz, Amaya: El gusto francés y su presencia en España (XVII-XIX), Fundación Mapfre, Madrid, 2022, pp. 17-35.

Other inventories +

Inv. Alcázar, Madrid, 1734. Núm. [750].
Pieza ynmediata de las Bobedas que cae de vajo de la del Despacho de verano / {750} Una Pintura de tres varas de largo y dos de ancho del Martirio de sn Lorenzo de mano de Mosiu Pusin marco negro.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 2075.

Inv. Alcázar, Madrid, 1734. Núm. 229.
Pinturas que se hallaron en las Bóbedas de Palacio [...] {9309} (229) / Otro [lienzo] de tres varas de ancho y dos y tercia de alto sin marco maltratado del martirio de San Lorenzo original del Guarchino

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos II, Alcázar de Madrid, 1701-1703. Núm. 409.
Pieza Ynmediata de Las bobedas que caen deuajo de la del despacho de berano / 409 / Yttem Vna pinttura de tres Varas de largo y dos de ancho del Marttirio de San Lorenzo de mano de Mosiu Pusin de la escuela de Carauacho Con marco negro tassada en Cien doblones ... 100

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 974.
Valentin (Moises) / 974. Martirio de San Lorenzo. / Mando el emperador Valeriano dar muerte a todos los sacerdotes que hubiese en su imperio. El prefecto de Roma quiso apoderarse de las riquezas de la Iglesia, pero San Lorenzo las hizo vender todas y distribuyo su precio entre los pobres. Irritado el prefecto, mando que quemasen al santo sobre unas parrillas de hierro. Esta San Lorenzo desnudo y tendido sobre el instrumento de su suplicio, uno de los verdugos le empuja hacia el fuego, mientras otros avivan la lumbre. / Alto 7 pies; ancho 9 pies, 4 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 974.

Exhibitions +

Valentin de Boulogne: Beyond Caravaggio
Nueva York NY
04.10.2016 - 22.01.2017

Italian Masterpieces from Spain's Royal Court. Museo Nacional del Prado
16.05.2014 - 31.08.2014

Displayed objects +


Update date: 05-07-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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