Flaying the image: skin and flesh in Jusepe de Ribera’s martyrdoms of Saint Bartholomew

Bogdan Cornea


Jusepe de Ribera painted the martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew more than any artist of the seventeenth century – more than a dozen works are documented, with six paintings still in existence. While these works have habitually been interpreted as images of extreme violence due to the gruesomeness of the subject, I argue here that they confront viewers with visual paradoxes by refusing to align or to make coherent the relationship between their subject and their technique. I argue that Ribera’s Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew (1634, National Gallery of Art, Washington) and Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew (1644, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona) work the potentiality of canvas and oils as flesh or skin in divergent ways, thereby dislodging the possibility of interpreting narrative, temporality and violence in simple alignment or identity. In so doing, Ribera’s paintings of flaying produce new relations between figures and surfaces that are capable of effecting new forms of violence.

Keywords: Jusepe de Ribera, skin, violence, time, impasto, folds

Full text: OAJ_issue6_Cornea (pdf, 1.51 MB)

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5456/issn.2050-3679/2018w06

Biographical note

Bogdan Cornea is an art historian and writer currently based in Amsterdam. Bogdan studied Art and Literature at the University of Leiden before completing his PhD at the University of York in 2015. His doctoral thesis focused on Jusepe de Ribera’s images of flaying. With the aid of a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship from the University of York, Bogdan is currently developing his thesis into a monograph on corporeality and violence in seventeenth-century art.