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Martyrdom of St Bartholomew
17th Century
Martyrdom of St Bartholomew
[Martirio di San Bartolomeo]
Oil on canvas
205 x 158 cm  [HxW]
Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte, Napoli

The painting depicts the martyrdom of the apostle Bartholomew who, according to the Legenda Aurea by Jacopo da Varazze, was skinned alive for having destroyed idols in the temples of India and converting one of the lords of the region. A self-portrait of the painter can be seen in the elegant soldier with the large hat, his hand resting elegantly on his side and his eyes facing the viewer, almost as though presenting the scene. This early work by Bernardo Cavallino can be dated to between 1635 and 1640. The artist studied painters of Neapolitan realism such as Ribera and, especially, the “Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds” and this work is close both to the northern bamboccianti in Rome, such as Michiel Sweerts, and to the so-called “Caravaggeschi a passo ridotto” in Naples, who were centred around the studio of Aniello Falcone. To the first two artists he owes his dense chromatic impasto, laid in such a way as to build up the forms, as well as the dominant dark tones against which stand out the bright red of the drape on the left, the blue of the sky, the white of the torturers’ clothes and the band around the saint’s waist.

Maia Confalone

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