Saint Bartholomew Flayed,
Sculpted by Marco d'Agrate (1504-1574) ,
Sculpted in 1562,
Marble
© Duomo di Milano, Cathedral of Milan

Saint Bartholomew Flayed,
Sculpted by Marco d'Agrate (1504-1574) ,
Sculpted in 1562,
Marble
© Duomo di Milano, Cathedral of Milan

Gospel of 24 August 2022

Feast of Saint Bartholomew

John 1:45-51

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, the one about whom the prophets wrote: he is Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.’ ‘From Nazareth?’ said Nathanael ‘Can anything good come from that place?’ ‘Come and see’ replied Philip. When Jesus saw Nathanael coming he said of him, ‘There is an Israelite who deserves the name, incapable of deceit.’ ‘How do you know me?’ said Nathanael. ‘Before Philip came to call you,’ said Jesus ‘I saw you under the fig tree.’ Nathanael answered, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.’ Jesus replied, ‘You believe that just because I said: I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.’ And then he added ‘I tell you most solemnly, you will see heaven laid open and, above the Son of Man, the angels of God ascending and descending.’

Reflection on the sculpture

Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint Bartholomew, one of the twelve apostles. He travelled extensively to spread the Word of God and visited places such as India, Ethiopia, Lycaonia (modern Turkey), Parthia (modern Iran) and Armenia. It is there in Armenia that the apostle is said to have been martyred by flaying and beheading at the command of the Armenian King Astyages.  Our sculpture today, in the Duomo of Milan, shows the saint having been flayed of his skin. Made by sculptor Marco d'Agrate in 1562, we see Saint Batholomew carrying what looks like a cloak on his shoulders and around his body. But it is his own skin, a clear reference to the torture he endured when he was martyred. The sculpture shows little emotion or pain. It is more a study and presentation of human anatomy, typical of the 16th century interest in science and the body. The sculpture is therefore as much an exercise in virtuous academic study of the muscles and structure of the human body, as it is about Saint Bartholomew.

The sculpture is highly classical in style - so much so that the sculptor added at the foot of the statue a short inscription saying: "Non me Praxiteles, sed Marcus finxit Agrates" ("I was not sculpted by Praxiteles, but by Marco d’Agrate"), referring to the sculptor's 'fear' that the sculpture might not be presumed to be by him as it was so classical in style; but that instead it might be attributed to Praxiteles, one of the most skilled and famous sculptors from Athens in Ancient Greece.

Saint Bartholomew was stripped of his skin, his ultimate sacrifice in order to bear witness to God. He teaches us how in order to serve God we ultimately might get stripped of everything too before meeting Our Maker…

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Charles Marriott
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Charles Marriott(@chazbo)
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