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 50 Years/50 Artworks      

36.
 
Next Work of Art

Anonymous Roman follower of Caravaggio, in the manner of Bartolemeo Manfredi
(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

One 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 February.

 
 
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