St Stephen was the first Christian martyr and experienced a vision of the open heavens as he was being stoned to death. He had angered the authorities in Jerusalem with his zealous preaching and was accused of blasphemy. He wears the robes of a deacon, as he was also one of the first seven deacons appointed by the apostles. A beam of intense light shines on the kneeling saint and angels tumble towards him bearing the palm fronds of martyrdom and a laurel crown. The Flemish landscape artist Paul Bril, who lived in Rome, may have owned this painting.