This, past Sunday, January 21st,
Early and Eastern images portray Agnes without attributes (example), and even as late as this 9th-century Roman mosaic she is pictured as simply a generic virgin martyr. But as early as the sixth century she begins to be portrayed with a lamb, as in the second picture at right. The lamb becomes the attribute most commonly used to identify her. This is because her name is so close to the Latin agnus, “lamb,” which is additionally a reference to Christ, the Agnus Dei or “Lamb of God” of the Christian liturgy and John 1:29-31.
To emphasize this symbolism some portraits even give the lamb a halo (example). Besides the lamb and the palm branch, Agnes may be portrayed with the sword of her martyrdom (example) or standing on the flames that parted in her story (example). In the first picture on the right, the whole martyrdom episode is added in a small area in the lower left of the canvas. Additionally, her portraits sometimes add an open book, as in the third picture at right. Usually, in western images, her hair is long and blond, as in the first and third pictures at right and this example. Ercole Ferrata The Death of St. Agnes 1660-64 Marble, over the life-size High altar of Sant’Agnese in Agone, Rome This is not exactly St. Agnes’s death because in the legend the fire is miraculously quenched and the saint dies later. More of St. Agnes
6th century Mosaic, above and below, detail from the procession of female saints on the left wall of the nave in Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna from the same period
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