(1600 – after 1652?)
The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew
Oil on canvas, 111.8 x 157.5 cm
Private Collection, Europe, acquired by the family of the present owner, and thence by descent. Sale Christie’s, New York, 28 January 2015, lot 26.
S. Bottari, "Aggiunte al Manfredi, al Renieri e allo Stomer" in Arte Antica e Moderna, 1965, no. 29 - 32, p. 57 - 60, ill. p. 59, plate 23b.
B. Nicolson, The International Caravaggesque Movement: Lists of Pictures by Caravaggio and His Followers throughout Europe from 1590 to 1650, Oxford 1979, p. 95.
B. Nicolson, Caravaggism in Europe, 2nd Edition revised and enlarged by Luisa Vertova, Turin 1989, vol. 1, p. 184.
By Dr. Wayne Franits:
The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew (Fig. 1) is not a well-known work by Matthias Stomer, but it is nevertheless an important picture within his overall oeuvre. Saint Bartholomew is traditionally identified as one of Christ’s original twelve apostles. After the Resurrection, Bartholomew is believed to have preached the gospel in India and Armenia. In the latter region, he was flayed alive and then hung upside-down for refusing to worship idols. In Stomer’s dramatic canvas, the doomed saint is posed frontally in half-length. He is stripped to his loincloth and one of the executioners has already begun his grisly task. Stomer has added the remarkable motif of a figure in a striking terra cotta-colored robe at the far left–perhaps a pagan priest–who holds a golden statuette of Minerva before the elderly saint, thereby contextualizing the immediate cause of his martyrdom.
If Stomer’s initial training did take place in the studio of a major artist in Utrecht, the most plausible candidate would be Hendrick ter Brugghen, who returned home in 1614 after a protracted stay in Italy. In fact, ter Brugghen himself provided an interesting prototype for Stomer’s painting. The older painter’s lost Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew, known today only from a copy (Germany, Private Collection), likewise portrays the story on a rectangular canvas with physically assertive, half-length figures positioned before a neutral background. A further Utrecht connection is the wonderful Prussian blue robe with yellow trim worn by the soldier standing beside the priestly figure holding the statuette of Minerva. Attire consisting of this combination of colors appears repeatedly in paintings by Gerrit van Honthorst and Dirck van Baburen (ca. 1592/93-1624) dated 1623 onwards. Despite its Utrecht-based precedents for composition and color, Stomer’s Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew dates to his Roman period, specifically, ca. 1630-1635–he is already documented in Naples by July of that latter year.
Our canvas compares favorably with a number of religious paintings in daylight that Stomer executed during his years in Rome, including Christ among the Doctors (Bergamo, Private Collection); Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (Montreal, Museum of Fine Arts), and Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple (Sale, Christies, London 5 July 1985, lot 23). A particularly noteworthy comparison is with Stomer’s Salome with the Head of St. John the Baptist (London, The National Gallery of Art). Although it is a night scene, it is approximately the same size as our picture and likewise displays similar seams at the top and bottom of the canvas.
All of the paintings listed above share the same compositional arrangement of animated figures pressed close to the picture plane before an unarticulated background with an additional head or two looming in the interstices behind the main protagonists. As for the subject of our canvas, the Spaniard Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652) made the most pictures by far of the Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew, but all of these were executed in Naples during the 1620's and beyond. Nevertheless, Stomer was likely familiar with a picture of the saint’s martyrdom painted in Rome by the French Caravaggist Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), datable to circa 1616 . The hoary-headed saint’s face in Valentin’s work recalls Stomer’s, as does his leathery, wizened body, clothed only with a loin cloth. More significantly, both painters employ a similar facture, accentuated by rich impasto highlights, even if the Frenchman’s tonalities are more silvery.
Stomer’s St. Bartholomew also reveals his familiarity with the so-called Borghese Fisherman, a monumental second-century Roman copy in black marble of a Greek original. This statue belonged to Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1576-1633) during the early seventeenth century and was well-known to many artists, most notably, Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), who made several carefully drawn copies of it in black chalk. At that time, it was thought to represent the suicide of the famous Roman Stoic philosopher, Seneca. The facial features of Stomer’s saint recall those of the statue though the latter’s hair and beard are closely cropped. Curiously, in some humanistic circles, Seneca was upheld as a model for Christians in that he taught strict virtue and accepted his unjust death–he was forced to commit suicide by the emperor Nero–with calm resignation. Perhaps these potential associations between the pagan philosopher and the condemned Christian saint were not lost on Stomer or the original owner of our compelling picture.
1. G. J. Hoogewerff, ‘Rembrandt en een Italiaansche maecenas,’ Oud Holland 35 (1917), p. 132, had posited that Stomer studied with the prominent Utrecht painter, Gerrit van Honthorst (1592-1656). However, since our painter was most likely born around 1600 (see below) and since Honthorst himself did not return to his native city after his extended Italian sojourn until the summer of 1620, it seems very unlikely that he would have embarked upon an apprenticeship with the famed painter as a twenty-year-old.
2. Ter Brugghen’s lost painting was recorded in the sale of the collection of Abraham Perroneau in Amsterdam in 1687; see further, Leonard J. Slatkes and Wayne Franits, The Paintings of Hendrick ter Brugghen 1588-1629: Catalogue Raisonné, Amsterdam and Philadelphia 2007, p. 266, cat. no. L7.
3. See, for example, Honthorst’s Merry Company, dated 1623 (Washington D. C., National Gallery of Art) and Baburen’s Granida and Daifolo, likewise dated 1623 (Private Collection) and that master’s final painting, Achilles before the Dead Body of Patroclus (Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister), signed and dated 1624. For these two latter works, see Wayne Franits, The Paintings of Dirck van Baburen, ca. 1592/93-1624: Catalogue Raisonné, Amsterdam and Philadelphia 2013, pp. 154-156, cat. no. A31, plate 31; 166-168, cat. no. A36, plate 36.
4. See note 11 above.
5. See De Pascale et al. op cit. (note 15), pp- 66-69, cat. no. 10.
6. This picture was most recently on view at the exhibition, Corps et ombres; Caravage et le caravagisme europeen, Toulouse, Musée des Augustins; Montpellier, Musée Fabre, 2012-2013, pp. 322-323, cat. no. 86.
7. This painting, from the Sir Dennis Mahon Collection, is dated circa 1630-32 and measures 109.2 x 155.7 cm. Otto Naumann, who pointed out the connection to the Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew, wonders whether the canvases for both pictures were cut from the same bolt.
8. See, for example, Nicola Spinosa, Ribera. L’opera completa, 2nd ed., Naples 2006, pp. 273, 287, 288, cats. A46, AA71, A72.
9. See Marina Mojana, Valentin de Boulogne, Milan 1989, pp. 182-183, cat. 65. Although the Frenchman is only documented in Rome for the first time in 1620, he must have arrived years earlier.
10. My thanks to Otto Naumann for calling attention to this statue in relation to Stomer’s picture.
11. For two of Rubens’s drawings of this statue, see New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Peter Paul Rubens; The Drawings (cat. by Anne-Marie Logan and Michiel Plomp), 2005, pp. 112-115, cat. nos. 22-23. The statue was also the model for the artist’s painting of the Death of Seneca of ca. 1612-13 (Munich, Alte Pinakothek). Today the so-called Borghese Fisherman is in the collections of the Musée du Louvre, Paris.
12. See Willibald Sauerländer, The Catholic Rubens; Saints and Martyrs, trans. D. Dollenmayer, Los Angeles 2014, pp. 28-29.