St. Auta Altarpiece

Unknown Portuguese master16th century

MNAA National Museum of Ancient Art

MNAA National Museum of Ancient Art
Lisbon, Portugal

In 1517, sent by the Emperor Maximilian I, the relics of the
body of St. Auta arrived in Portugal. This saint was one of the
eleven thousand virgins who accompanied St. Ursula on her
journey and martyrdom in Cologne. Dom Manuel I wanted
her relics to be housed at the Convent of Madre de Deus, but
the Pope only authorised the cult of this obscure saint in 1521,
and so, in the following year, the Queen Dona Leonor ordered
a chapel dedicated to the saint to be built in the convent’s
cloister, for which these paintings were made. The present-day
format and arrangement of the works are the result of later
transformations: two paintings were joined together and
altered to form a semicircular panel, which was placed above
the chapel door, while two panels painted on both sides were
used in the eighteenth century as the doors of a cupboard in
the sacristy. Originally, the group of paintings was associated
with a chest containing the saint’s relics, and together they
formed two narrative sequences, one showing four stages
in the history and martyrdom of St. Ursula, and the other
showing two episodes alluding to the transfer of the relics of
St. Auta and the ceremony of their arrival in Lisbon, in which
Queen Leonor is also portrayed. These panels are of great
interest as they show us the appearance of the Convent of
Madre de Deus prior to its transformation.


  • Title: St. Auta Altarpiece
  • Creator: Unknown Portuguese master
  • Date Created: 16th century
  • Location Created: Lisbon, Portugal
  • Physical Dimensions: 67 cm x 72 cm; 66.5 cm x 71.9 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: MNAA Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, inv. 1462-A Pint, 1462-BR Pint
  • Medium: Oil on panel

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