Anonymous Roman follower of Caravaggio, in the manner of Bartolemeo
(Italian, c. 1587–162o/21)
The Scourging of St. Blaise
oil on canvas, 64 3/4" x 75 3/4"
Gift of Alice Tweed Tuohy
of the largest paintings collected by George Tweed, The Scourging
of St. Blaise depicts the persecution of the early-fourth century
Bishop from Sebastea, Armenia, by Romans during the reign of
the Emperor Diocletian. Though a religiously-inspired subject,
the only defining supernatural clement is a shaft of divine
light entering from above, highlighting the figure of the martyr
and producing heavy shadows and backlighting around the surrounding
cast of characters in the background. The painting is executed
in a tight, naturalistic manner, stressing the physicality
and realism of the figures through careful modeling and illusionistic
foreshortening. As such, St. Blaise has been attributed to
a close follower of the Italian painter Caravaggio (1573–1610).
In conducting research for a 1988 Minneapolis Institute of
Arts exhibition and catalogue featuring the Tweed Museum’s
European collection, George Keyes attributed the painting to
an Italian follower of Bartolomeo Manfredi (1587–1620), who worked in the style of, and probably knew, Caravaggio.
Like Caravaggio, the painter of St. Blaise depicted a wide
variety of contemporary figures representing different ages,
social strata, levels of authority and political and religious
affiliation. Pentimenti (the faint appearance of a design that
has been painted over) indicate that the artist reworked the
image considerably. Originally, the saint wore a miter, indicating
his stature as a bishop, but the figure was later shifted to
the right and the miter replaced by a halo.
The Catholic legend of St. Blaise (Biago in Italian) reports
that he was born into a wealthy family, and was a physician
at Sebastea prior to becoming a bishop. As persecution of Christians
began anew in the early fourth century, St. Blaise was said
to have received a message from God to hide in the wilderness.
Soldiers of the governor Agricolas found him in a cave surrounded
by wild and injured animals, which he had tamed and healed
by blessing. On his way to prison, he encountered a mother
whose son was choking to death on a fish bone. Blessing him,
the bone dissolved in the boy’s throat. Shortly after,
St. Blaise was tortured by having his flesh torn with wool
combs, as graphically shown in the painting, and was later
beheaded. Such persecutions were the most vicious – and
the last – of the Roman Empire’s efforts to stop
the spread of Christianity. Since his martyrdom, St. Blaise
has been recognized as the patron saint of wild animals, wool
combers, and anyone suffering from ailments of the throat.
His feast days are celebrated on the third and eleventh of