Wood with polychromy and gilding
23 x 7.5 x 6.5
Purchase by the Department of Art History
This wooden sculpture depicts a saint with a sword in his chest and making a holy hand gesture, capturing the saint in the moments between life and death. This sculpture is quite visceral in its depiction of the saint, with the knife protruding quite far out toward the viewer and painted blood running down the saint’s front. Despite the clear violence of this image, the saint maintains his composure, holding his hand up in a gesture of blessing. This gesture in the face of death shows the religiosity of this saint, as he does not fear death, but rather faces it with grace and offers blessings for others who remain living. This martyr appears to be a specifically Christian martyr because of his mode of dress, the halo above his head, and his hand gesture. This sculpture reflects the importance of martyrdom in Christianity and the proliferation of images of martyrs throughout Christian history. The most celebrated aspect of martyrs in Christian tradition has been their commitment to Christ’s teachings even in the face of death and their acceptance of death without fear due to their belief that their death will bring them to the holy afterlife. This saint fully embodies this ideal of the martyr, as he not only faces death fearlessly, but he even faces death with a blessing for all other human beings who remain on earth. Although the pain of this violent death can clearly be seen on his face, he only maintains his religiosity and charity in this moment.
Not only does this sculpture exemplify charity and graceful acceptance of death that are praised of martyrs throughout Christian tradition, but it also makes the transition from the human form to the holy saintly form visible. In Christian tradition, martyrdom transforms the pious human being into a holy saint in the afterlife. This image shows this transformation of this man, as he still has his earthly form in the sculpture while also showing his halo, an indicator of his new sainthood brought on by his holy death. This sculpture then proves to be quite a different depiction of death than we are used to, as it shows someone facing death without fear. This belief in the holy afterlife allows death to be accepted without anxiety, showing the integral role that religion plays in the understandings of and reactions to death. This sculpture makes this important role of religion visible, as well as making the transition between life and the afterlife visible as well. These visual depictions of the afterlife play key roles in helping to conceptualize the afterlife in a more concrete way as well as in helping other believers to face death with the same grace and charity.
—Bailey Luke, 2017
A wooden sculpture of Saint Peter of Verona dressed in his Dominican monastic robes with a sword in his chest and the fragments of a sword lodged in his skill. His right hand is raised in gesture and his left is extended, holding an object no longer attached to the sculpture, most likely a quill.