We have thought that what better way to inaugurate this approach to the History of Art than by introducing you to the history of Santa Bárbara, a woman whose figure and history give this brand its name and who, in addition, we can also approach by putting on glasses from the perspective of gender, those that help us to contemplate the history of art without the bias of the male gaze and that allow us, at the same time, to situate women as protagonists, whether they appear between the limits of the works themselves or if they are located behind them. them, being creators of various narratives.
In this case, we will bring you closer to the history of Santa Bárbara and we will help you to identify the iconographic attributes (that is, elements that accompany the character and that help us to recognize him even when we do not have additional information about the work in front of us). ) with which it is usually represented.
So, who was Saint Barbara of Nicomedia?
Some sources place it in the Anatolian peninsula in the 2nd century, others instead in Egypt in the 3rd century, but if we agree on something, it is that it is about a pagan character who wanted to profess the Christian faith before this religion was legalized and made official by the Roman Empire, so it falls chronologically in what is known as the time of persecutions.
As is the case with most holy figures, the evidence of their existence is difficult to trace, especially considering that throughout the Middle Ages and also the Modern Age, the cult of relics encouraged pilgrimages to certain holy places. and, with it, also an economic flow that promoted the appearance of false relics or of dubious origin. Whether or not the existence of Santa Bárbara is true, both her life and her death can be analyzed using the gender perspective.
Why is he a martyr?
Beyond being a woman in the II-III centuries (which, believe me, was enough of a martyrdom in itself) Saint Barbara's sin was to contradict the plans that her father (who was called Dioscoro) had for her, that is, to be wife and then mother. This moved our Barbara from little to nothing, so she said to Dióscoro “hey, don't freak out, my only husband is God and I want to be baptized so I can be a Christian”. Dióscoro, not at all happy with his daughter's ability to make decisions for herself, must have thought: “Oh, yes? Then get ready” and had a tower built to lock her up: thus, Barbara would not only be isolated from the world, but also from the new religion.
It is normal that at this point you are already doubting if we are talking about Santa Barbara or Rapunzel, but no: we are still talking about Santa Barbara.
Eventually, Dióscoro (who in addition to being a great misogynist was also a high-ranking politician) had to leave the tower where he lived with his daughter as a soul carried away by the coronavirus. Our friend Barbara, who we already know had great character and determination, took advantage of the fact that her father was going to be absent to tell him: "Look, father, since you locked me up here I haven't even been able to wash myself and this smells like it's pulling back." Why don't you have the decency to build me a bathroom where I can clean myself? Because at this rate, neither God can stand me like this, nor the suitor you have prepared for me, nor myself" and her father, for the first time, paid attention to her.
We don't know if Barbara finally used the toilet to improve her hygiene, but we do know that she used it to sneak a priest into the tower and have him baptize her. In Spanish this is called "follow your dreams, Barbara!"; but of course, every dream has its double side of the coin.
When Dióscoro returned to the tower after spending some time making chauvinists with the men of his time and found that he had locked up a pagan daughter and had returned to find a Christian daughter, like every father who is incapable of respecting the decisions of his offspring, he went into a rage in the style of late antiquity, that is: trying to murder his daughter with the sword. A sweet father, wow. But don't worry, because our friend Barbara (who we have already seen was not only a Christian, but also very cool) manages to escape and hides for a while, until she is discovered by a pastor and taken to court (imagine being taken to trial for simply doing what you want, but not for trying to murder your own daughter). Things, from this moment on, do not look good for Barbara.
In fact, she is publicly martyred and, as if that were not enough, her murder is ordered. Dióscoro, whose light bulb lights up for the first time in the entire story, says: “DON'T CUT MY DAUGHTER'S HEAD OFF!... Let me do it”. Bad, Dioscoro, bad. This in Spanish means "whoever follows her gets it", because we have already seen that Dióscoro's obsession with swords and with his very normal daughter was certainly not.
And now you may wonder: and why is Santa Barbara known and invoked as the patron saint of lightning? Because God, who must have been taking a nap while our protagonist was martyred, upon waking up and seeing that she was knocking on the doors of heaven, sent a bolt of lightning over Dióscoro that instantly struck him down, avenging the murder of Santa Bárbara which, basically
1. He just wanted to profess his faith in Christianity.
2. She only wanted to decide who to marry, and in this sense she wanted to marry God
3. He just wanted to escape his confinement
4 . She was a woman who did what came out of her ovaries at all times, as it should be.
Now that you know its history, surely in the following works you will be able to find some elements that condense it:
In this work by Goya, Santa Bárbara appears dressed in noble clothing, presents a crown that alludes precisely to her lineage, holds the palm of martyrdom in one hand and, in the background, her murder appears in front of the tower in which she previously had been cloistered. This tower also usually has three windows alluding to the Trinity (Father / Son / Holy Spirit).
In this print we see, once again, the crowned martyr, holding the chalice that symbolizes her conversion to Christianity, dressed in a nobleman's cloak, showing the sword with which she was beheaded and, behind her, the attribute of the tower on the right (on which she departs for a while) and, to the left, a cannon: since she is also the patron saint of artillerymen, gunboats, miners and firefighters.
This print is, therefore, a very good example of all the iconographic attributes with which the saint can be accompanied to favor her identification.
And finally, in this work by Robert Campin, we see Santa Barbara inside her tower (with a double symbology since, through the window, another one can be seen on the horizon) reading the sacred scriptures, the fireplace with the fire lit (allusion to the fire of lightning and, therefore, to the death of his father) and, above it, a figure that symbolizes the Trinity by presenting, again, an image of God the Father / Jesus Christ / The Holy Spirit in the form of pigeon.
Now that you know her story, I hope you see her not only as a holy martyr, but also as a woman who did what she considered right, fighting for it until the end of her days, without allowing any man or social imposition to stop her. . And this is, after all, what we wish for all the people who wear any jewel from this brand.