When the Saints Go Arting In: Cecilia

Jo Thornely
3 min readMar 10


Saint Cecilia was, by all accounts, quite a musical lady.

She sang during her own wedding, gave to the poor, and was apparently quite difficult to kill, having survived a bit of burning and a bit of being chopped at with a sword for a few days longer than is considered normal.

But the thing that artists paid the most attention to was definitely the music thing. The Foo Fighters even named an EP and a song after her, she was that famous.

One thing most of the paintings have in common is that they show Cecilia playing an instrument. It could be almost anything — she’s a multi-instrumentalist just like Dave Grohl. But another thing the paintings have in common is that Cecilia doesn’t watch what she’s doing. Cecilia just straight-out refuses to look at whatever instrument she’s playing.

Here, by Domenichino, is Cecilia not looking at a cello. Or a discarded recorder. Or the little naked baby that she’s using as a music stand who is definitely about to get poked in the belly button with a bow.

French painter Simon Vouet painted Cecilia not looking at a little organ. Admittedly a lot of artists include a lot of little organs in their paintings that we try not to look at (see: naked baby music stand).

Guido Reni shows Cecilia not looking at a violin, and not looking at an organ in the background. She’s multi-tasking, not looking at two instruments at the same time.

Jacques Blanchard has Cecilia not looking at her pipe organ and instead looking at a lute-playing angel. Who is definitely about to play Wonderwall.

Confusingly, John William Waterhouse painted Cecilia asleep in the middle of an angel-duet string recital. Waterhouse has perfectly captured the angels thinking “wow, rude” in front of the seaside. Honestly that woman will go to such bizarre lengths just to not look at musical instruments.

Here she is not looking at a piano in front and a cello behind, as depicted by Simon Glucklich. Judging by the angels’ outfits they’re rehearsing for a gender-reveal party, but it’s still impressive how many things Cecilia has ignored over the years.

I understand it in this painting by Jacques Stella, though. There is a lot of interesting stuff up there. Maybe Cecilia’s sick of being a soloist and wants to join a band? Or maybe she realised she’s been playing piano on a desk. We’ll never know.

Anyway that’s Saint Cecilia, who can play loads of instruments without even looking, sort of like Ray Charles but without the sunglasses or heroin.