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'The Vestal' by Joshua Reynolds, showing Tuccia.

Tuccia was an ancient Roman Vestal Virgin whose chastity was questioned by a spurious accusation. When the piety of holy men and women was doubted by sceptics, the gods could perform miracles to vindicate them. In Tuccia's case she utilized a flat perforated basket to carry water, without the water falling to the ground through the sieve.

Tuccia's decision to prove her innocence is recounted:

O Vesta, if I have always brought pure hands to your secret services, make it so now that with this sieve I shall be able to draw water from the Tiber and bring it to Your temple (Vestal Virgin Tuccia in Valerius Maximus 8.1.5 absol).

Tuccia proved her innocence by carrying a sieve full of water from the Tiber to the Temple of Vesta [Augustine, De Civitate Dei, X, 16, in Worsfold, 69].

The Vestal Tuccia was celebrated in Pliny the Elder's Natural History (28: 12) and Petrarch's Triumph of Chastity in Triumphs. However, in Juvenal's Satire VI (famously renamed 'Against Women') he references her as one of many lascivious women.

Sieve Iconography[edit]

By the late Middle Ages, the image of Tuccia and her sieve became associated with the virtue of chastity. Paintings of chaste women would often include a sieve and this symbol figures prominently in many depictions of England's "Virgin Queen" Elizabeth I in the late sixteenth century.[1]


  1. ^ Elizabeth I Then and Now, compiled & edited by Georgianna Ziegler (Folger Shakespeare Library: 2003); essay "Portraying Queens: the International Language of Court Portraiture in the Sixteenth Century", by Sheila ffolliott, p.170