Flesh as relic: painting early Christian female martyrs within Baroque sacred spaces

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Arts & Architecture


Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio's Burial of Saint Lucy (1608) in Santa Lucia al Sepolcro, Syracuse, Domenichino Zampieri's Martyrdom of Saint Cecilia (1614) in San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome, and Giovanni Francesco Barbieri's Burial of Saint Petronilla (1623) in Saint Peter's Basilica, are remarkable Baroque depictions of Early Christian female martyrs which illustrate a tendency toward establishing a dialogue between the expiring or lifeless body of the saint and her own venerated grave or relic. Eschewing the requirements and textual authority laid down by the Council of Trent, which prompts the theatrical and violent imaging of saints and martyrs, each piece exhibits a juxtaposition of martyred female body, earth, and altar that transcends naturalist and classicist aesthetics. Rather than offering a dramatization of a saint's life or martyrdom, each artist chose to render a funeral scene directly and with minimal distractions. In the intersection of the traditional veneration of relics and Counter-Reformatory developments in the veneration of martyrs and gendered behavior in church, the following thesis will suggest that each artist rendered the transformation of mortal flesh to saintly relic in order to facilitate the contemplation of the martyred female body implicit in the veneration of saints without transgressing gendered relations within sacred spaces.




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