And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

torsdag 12. november 2015

Sanctity in Milan, part 4 - The Flayed Bartholomew

This series of blogposts is inspired by a work-trip to Milan which the Centre for Medieval Literature arranged this September, and aims to present some of the many stories and cultural expressions connected to the cult of saints in and/or related to the city's history.

This post is a rather short one, presenting the famous sculpture of the flayed Saint Bartholomew, which is situated by the transept of the cathedral of Milan. The statue, finished in 1562, was made by Marco d'Agrate, a fact which he proudly displays in the legend on the stone underneath Bartholomew's feet. The text reads: Non me Praxiteles, sed Marc'finxit Agrat, "Not Praxiteles, but Marco d'Agrate made me". By this comparison to one of the greatest and most famous sculptors of the classical era Marco placed his own worth at the very summit of the artistic expression then in vogue in Late-Renaissance Italy. (Photographs taken by me.)

The gruesome and gruesomely realistic depiction of the flayed saint is not only intended to convey one of the most famous details from the story of Saint Bartholomew, it also serves to highlight Marco d'Agrate's intimate anatomical knowledge and his ability to render stone into the semblance of living flesh, where tendons and muscles are as well-crafted as the hairs of his dangling head-skin, worn in a manner not unlike the traditional depictions of Herakles draped in the skin of the Nemean lion.

The story of Bartholomew's martyrdom inspired a wide range of depictions of the saint throughout the medieval and early modern periods, and as a consequence his iconographic attribute is the knife by which he was flayed. It is also for this reason he is seen as the patron saint of tanners and all other trades related to the treatment of hide. According to the traditional, and rather apochryphal, legend, Bartholomew met his death in India where he was preaching the word of God. In Legenda Aurea the episode itself is briefly recounted as follows:

[T]he king tore the purple robe he was wearing, and ordered the apostle to be beaten with Clubs and flayed alive. Christians then took his body and gave it honorable burial. King Astyages and the temple priests were seized by demons and died.
- Jacobus de Voragine,
The Golden Legend, translated by William Granger Ryan, Princeton University Press, 2012: 498

The manner of Bartholomew's death was given a similar, but less horrific rendition in Michelangelo's Last Judgement, in which the saint has been given the features of the playwright, poet and infamous pornographer Pietro Aretino.

Bartholomew Aretino
From Wikimedia

For similar blogposts, see:

Sanctity in Milan, part 1

Sanctity in Milan, part 2

Sanctity in Milan, part 3

On the late-medieval iconographic development of Saint Sebastian

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