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Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew

In his first multi-figure print, Ribera organized a strong cast of characters into a dramatic tableau. The brightly lit protagonist St. Bartholomew takes center stage tied to a cross-like tree, his body twisting and bending as he is being flayed alive. The emotional impact is heightened by the grotesque cast of supporting players, particularly the executioner with a knife in his mouth and knees slightly bent in order to peel down the saint’s flesh. Onlookers observe the activity, while a mysterious figure emerging from the darkness confronts the viewer. A disembodied head in the lower left corner represents the fallen idol that sealed Bartholomew’s fate (he’d refused to worship the king’s gods). Salvation is foretold by his transfixed gaze up at the hand of God lowering a crown of sainthood from the heavens. The popularity of this horrific theme in Ribera’s oeuvre reflects the spiritual intensity and mysticism of the Spanish Counter-Reformation and the emotionalism of Baroque art.

Jusepe de Ribera
Spanish (active in Italy), 1591–1652
Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew
1624
Etching and engraving on paper
Image/sheet: 9 3/8 x 12 11/16 in. (23.8 x 32.2 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 63.182