Saint Laurence,
Sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 – 1680),
Sculpted in 1617,
White marble
© Contini Bonacossi Collection / Uffizi Gallery, Florence / photo by Foto Reali, Foto Reali Archive, Department of Image Collections, National Gallery of Art Library, Washington, DC

Saint Laurence,
Sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 – 1680),
Sculpted in 1617,
White marble
© Contini Bonacossi Collection / Uffizi Gallery, Florence / photo by Foto Reali, Foto Reali Archive, Department of Image Collections, National Gallery of Art Library, Washington, DC

Gospel of 10 August 2023

Feast of Saint Laurence, Deacon and Martyr

John 12:24-26

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘I tell you, most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.

Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life.

If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too.

If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.’

Reflection on the Marble Sculpture

Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint Laurence, one of the seven deacons of the Church of Rome. He was martyred on 10th August 258. He was ordered by the Emperor Valerian to hand over all the wealth he had to the Roman authorities.  Instead, he gave his wealth to the poor. Laurence then showed up in front of the emperor with men who were poor, crippled, and sick. He told the emperor that these people were the ‘the true wealth of the Church’ and that that was all he could offer the emperor. Offended by this, the emperor sentenced him to die by being roasted on a gridiron. Keeping his sense of humour to his dying breath, he famously said, “Turn me over, I’m done on this side!”

Our sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini from 1617 depicts this moment of martyrdom. Bernini was only 19 years old when he sculpted this marble. We can already see a very mature style. In fact Bernini had seen Michelangelo’s Pietà at St Peter’s Basilica, and based this reclining semi-nude figure of Saint Laurence on that. In fact in the sculptor’s biography, his son Domenico says that during the realisation of this sculpture, in order to depict the saint’s expression of pain on the rack, “he stood bare legged on one leg near smouldering ashes and thus experienced the martyrdom of the saint, while using a mirror and a pencil to draw the painful expression of his face, and observed the various effects that his own flesh underwent as a result of the heat of the flames” (Vita del Cavalier Gio. Lorenzo Bernini, 1713).

The size of the saint’s left hand is huge. It is almost exaggerated in proportion to tell the viewer ‘look who I am doing all this for… for God’… pointing upwards.

The carved wood table holding the sculpture is sculpted in the form of a tree wrapped in flames, probably made from a drawing by the sculptor himself.

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Liliana Lazzaro
Member
Liliana Lazzaro
10 months ago

San Lorenzo uno de mis Santos favorito, sin dudas un gran amor a nuestro Santo Cristo, he leido tan largas y bendecidas reflexiones y comentarios, que solo diré Dios los bendiga y hasta mañana!!!

Will Howard
Member
Will Howard
10 months ago

“…but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.”

Hmmmmm… I don’t quite see the exaggerated left hand “pointing upwards” ..etc. – nice idea nonetheless.

Instead I see Bernini’s intent for the Martyr’s left’ hand as: left brain/ intellect/ Shadow /‘Reason & Faith’, informing, having informed, a robust Hope, and, therefore laying flat and at rest, ‘largessly’ having fulfilled its preparatory role of prompting the soul ( right-brain); now, docile/passive even ‘grateful’ for such a ‘Glorious’ dying. Therefore, St. Lawrence is able to attain his SOOO desired ends, in a state of ecstasy and even humor ” I am done enough, eat if you will” .

Readings related to John 12:24-26

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John 12:44-50

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15 May 2019

John 12: 44-50

I, the light, have come into the world

10 August 2022

John 12:24-26

Feast of Saint Laurence

10 August 2019

John 12: 24-2

If a wheat grain dies, it yields a rich harvest

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