Exhibiting Historical Art: Out of the Vault: Stories of People and Things

Statue of Saint Barbara

Saint Barbara
17th century
Polychromed wood

This statue of Saint Barbara, once brightly painted, now shows only traces of its former color on its aging wood. Statues like this were often used for personal worship in homes, and Saint Barbara was a popular figure among women. It is probable that this statue was featured in a home shrine or personal space of a French noblewoman.

Saint Barbara was an early Christian martyr and saint. Her story is told in a legend dating to the seventh century.
Explore the legend of Saint Barbara here.

Saint Barbara is the patron saint of artillerymen, armorers, military engineers, miners, and explosives workers. She is invoked as a protector against sudden death from lightning, fire, or explosions. Many modern artillery, engineering, and explosive ordinance military units use her image or symbols in their crests.
Explore other depictions of Saint Barbara here.

Her primary symbol, depicted on this statue, is the three-windowed tower representing the Holy Trinity. In this piece, she holds in the right hand either a peacock plume, a symbol of her home city of Heliopolis, or a palm, a symbol of martyrdom. It is likely that the jeweled socket in her chest was once a reliquary.
Explore the symbols of Saint Barbara here.

Joseph Eilbert, ’19
Physics major

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