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Bernardo Cavallino, Saint Bartholomew

Key facts
Full title Saint Bartholomew
Artist Bernardo Cavallino
Artist dates 1616 - 1656?
Date made about 1640-1645
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 176 × 125.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought with the support of the American Friends of the National Gallery, 2023
Inventory number NG6698
Location Room 32
Collection Main Collection
Saint Bartholomew
Bernardo Cavallino

Saint Bartholomew sits alone in the wilderness. Enveloped in the folds of his mantle, he turns towards us, unable to look at the knife clasped in his left hand. One of the twelve apostles, Bartholomew was said to have preached the gospel in India and Armenia. When he refused to make a sacrifice to the local gods, he was horribly killed, first flayed and then beheaded.

Gruesome depictions of Bartholomew’s martyrdom were popular in seventeenth-century Naples. Here, Cavallino makes Bartholomew the sole protagonist of an almost monochromatic, intensely psychological picture. We are not confronted with violence, but the threat of violence is menacing. White highlights gleam on the blade and handle of the knife. The rope that will be used to bind the saint hangs ominously from the tree above. His skin is beautifully painted, the visible brushmarks on the shoulder giving it a strikingly realistic texture.

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