Saint Bartholomew

This arresting image came past me on Pinterest yesterday:

(#1) St Bartholomew Flayed, by Marco d’Agrate, 1562 (Duomo di Milano)

Yes, flayed, with his skin peeled off. More on this statue below. Now about St. Bartholomew and how he ended up being portrayed in artworks this way.

From Wikipedia:

Bartholomew was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus according to the New Testament. Most scholars today identify Bartholomew as Nathanael or Nathaniel, who appears in the Gospel of John (1:45-51; cf. 21:2).

.. In artistic depictions, Bartholomew is most commonly depicted holding his flayed skin and the knife with which [accrding to traditional lore] he was skinned.

St. Bartholomew is the most prominent flayed Christian martyr; During the 16th century, images of the flaying of Bartholomew were so popular that it came to signify the saint in works of art. Consequently, Saint Bartholomew is most often represented being skinned alive. Symbols associated with the saint include knives and his own skin, which Bartholomew holds or drapes around his body. Similarly, the ancient herald of Bartholomew is known by “flaying knives with silver blades and gold handles, on a red field.” As in Michelangelo’s Last Judgement, the saint is often depicted with both the knife and his skin. Representations of Bartholomew with a chained demon are common in Spanish painting.

Saint Bartholomew is often depicted in lavish medieval manuscripts. Manuscripts, which are literally made from flayed and manipulated skin, hold a strong visual and cognitive association with the saint during the medieval period and can also be seen as depicting book production.

…  Due to the nature of his martyrdom, Bartholomew is the patron saint of tanners, plasterers, tailors, leatherworkers, bookbinders, farmers, housepainters, butchers, and glove makers. In works of art the saint has been depicted being skinned by tanners, as in Guido da Siena’s reliquary shutters with the Martyrdoms of St. Francis, St. Claire, St. Bartholomew, and St. Catherine of Alexandria. Popular in Florence and other areas in Tuscany, the saint also came to be associated with salt, oil, and cheese merchants.

Although Bartholomew’s death is commonly depicted in artworks of a religious nature, his story has also been used to represent anatomical depictions of the human body devoid of flesh. An example of this can be seen in Marco d’Agrate’s St Bartholomew Flayed (1562) where Bartholomew is depicted wrapped in his own skin with every muscle, vein and tendon clearly visible, acting as a clear description of the muscles and structure of the human body.

Here the Wikipedia piece provides an extended essay on one particular portrayal of the saint:

(#2) The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew by Jusepe de Ribera (1634)

The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew (1634) by Jusepe de Ribera depicts Bartholomew’s final moments before being flayed alive. The viewer is meant to empathize with Bartholomew, whose body seemingly bursts through the surface of the canvas, and whose outstretched arms embrace a mystical light that illuminates his flesh. His piercing eyes, open mouth, and petitioning left hand bespeak an intense communion with the divine; yet this same hand draws our attention to the instruments of his torture, symbolically positioned in the shape of a cross. Transfixed by Bartholomew’s active faith, the executioner seems to have stopped short in his actions, and his furrowed brow and partially illuminated face suggest a moment of doubt, with the possibility of conversion. The representation of Bartholomew’s demise in the National Gallery painting differs significantly from all other depictions by Ribera. By limiting the number of participants to the main protagonists of the story — the saint, his executioner, one of the priests who condemned him, and one of the soldiers who captured him —a nd presenting them halflength and filling the picture space, the artist rejected an active, movemented composition for one of intense psychological drama. The cusping along all four edges shows that the painting has not been cut down: Ribera intended the composition to be just such a tight, restricted presentation, with the figures cut off and pressed together.

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