Saint Barbara

Wilhelm von Schadow (1788 1862)

Oil on canvas
Height: 114.6 cm
Width: 83 cm
Inventory Number
Purchased in 1981

As the veneration of the saints gained in strength – leading to the foundation of the Society for the Propagation of Religious Images in Düsseldorf in 1841 – did the numbers of such pictures rise. Schadow’s work of 1844 can be seen as a reaction to the revival of the devotional image as a genre. The figure of Barbara takes up nearly the entire space of the picture. The palm branch in her right hand denotes her as a martyr. The tower on the left and the sword in the lower right-hand corner are attributes pointing to the sufferings of the saint. According to the legend, her father tries to make his daughter turn away from the Christian faith. To break her will he locks her in a tower, indicated by the fortress ruin in the painting. Despite torture Barbara remains steadfast. Finally her father cuts off her head with the sword. However the actual theme of Schadow’s painting is the saint’s ecstasy. With her gaze directed heavenwards over her shoulder, the twisted posture and the type of gown, Schadow’s Barbara makes reference to a prominent fore runner – Raphael’s painting of St. Catherine (National Gallery, London). Her soulful gaze, an expression that might be dismissed by today’s viewers as kitsch, demonstrates the Nazarenes’ efforts to combine the ideal of a naturalistic depiction with that of Christian humility.


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