Sebastiano Ricci (1659 - 1734)
St. Helena Discovers the Wood of the Cross

Church of St. Roch, Venice, Italy

The title is as supplied by the label in the church, but the subject is not so much the discovery of the cross as its "exaltation" (its "lifting up," celebrated on September 14). Lifted high, it is adored by St. Helena and by the man whom it cured but ignored by the Jew who leans in to interrogate the latter.

The man in the background with the white beard should be Judas/Quiriacus, who had led Helena to the place where the cross was buried. The boys and women standing with Helena appear to be her court. The Spanish Inventio says she went to Jerusalem with "a great army" (Head, 87), but the other sources say nothing about any fellow travelers.

In the legends the saint also finds the nails used to crucify Jesus. Here, the nails, nail-puller, and spear are borne aloft by the angels, as in "Death of Jesus" images. The flambeau in the lower left is not in the legends and most likely is meant to be symbolic. The weakness of its light in that dark corner contrasts with the brilliance behind the cross.

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Photographed at the church by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.