The idea for this painting came to Delaroche during a time of severe illness. The subject deals with the terrible persecution suffered by Christians during the reign of Emperor Diocletian (284-305). The effective contrast of the crimson sunset and the cold greenish-blue tones of the water, with its reflections of that mystical light which illuminates the face of the martyr thrown into the Tiber with her hands tied, gives the painting a very Romantic feel. A contemporary of Delaroche, the writer Théophile Gautier, poetically described this image as that of the “Christian Ophelia” and was particularly admiring of the face of “virginal purity and divine beauty”.
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