National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew Jusepe de Ribera (artist)
Spanish, 1591 - 1652
The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew, 1634
oil on canvas
overall: 104 x 113 cm (40 15/16 x 44 1/2 in.) framed: 134.6 x 143.8 x 10.2 cm (53 x 56 5/8 x 4 in.)
Gift of the 50th Anniversary Gift Committee
On View
From the Tour: Spanish Painting in the Seventeenth Century
Object 2 of 7

Saint Bartholomew, who was flayed alive, was a subject Ribera treated several times. Here the painter focuses not so much on the physical anguish of the saint as on his mystical experience. The unusual X-shaped composition pulls the viewer into the scene to share the profound emotion that passes in the moment when Bartholomew confronts his executioner with eyes lifted to God. Attention is drawn also to the sharpening of the knife; the position of the blade and whetstone forms a cross -- involving us not only in Bartholomew's martyrdom but also in Christ's sacrifice and crucifixion.

Ribera's thick, rich paints communicate a real physical presence. He uses the coarse bristles of his brush to texture the paint and give it tactile dimension. White hairs in the saint's beard are created by silvery filaments of paint. Around his eye, the pigments wrinkle like old skin.

Before settling in Naples, Ribera had spent some time in Rome studying the works of Caravaggio. Evident in this picture is the influence of Caravaggio's dramatic lighting, deep shadows, and unremitting realism, but the intensity of Ribera's religious fervor and his skillful handling of paint are his own.

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