Moretto da Brescia
St. Justina and the Unicorn

Circa 1530
Oil on panel, 78.7 x 54.7 in. (200 x 139 cm.)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

According to Honorius of Autun a unicorn though wild will tamely place its head in the lap of a virgin, just as Christ prizes chastity and chose the Virgin Mary in the Incarnation (Sill 26-27). Both St. Justina of Antioch and St. Justina of Padua were virgin martyrs, so the unicorn here does not necessarily tell us which one is portrayed. Justina of Antioch did make a point of her chastity, steadfastly defending it and remarking to her suitor that she was already wed to Christ ("De SS. Cypriano, Iustina et Theoctisto," in Acta Sanctorum, September vol. 7, 243). But on the whole it seems more likely that this is the Paduan Justina. Her clothes and hair are quite similar to those in Veronese's 1573 painting of the Padua martyrdom, the hair in both cases typical of mid-century style in northern Italy. (Compare the examples in Wake.)

More of St. Justina of Padua
More of St. Justina of Antioch

Source: Wikimedia Commons