If you’ve ever been to Milan Cathedral, you’ve probably noticed the statue of St. Bartholomew in the right transept. He’s hard to miss, staring creepily forward with overly-defined features and muscles. I avoided him at first, even though there was usually a group of tourists taking pictures of him crowded around his base. He just looked…weird. I didn’t know why. And there were so many other things to look at – beautiful things! – that I just skirted around him, averting my eyes.
Until I had a friend come and visit, that is, who wanted to investigate. It was a chilly morning in late fall and the crowd of tourists that was omnipresent during the summer months was absent, so we were able to walk up and “admire” the statue without shoulder past anyone. For the first time, I walked slowly behind the statue – and stopped, surprised.
“It’s a head!” I pointed to the upside-down head, complete with hair and beard, hanging over the statue’s shoulder near his left elbow.
I saw my friend’s gaze follow the cloth that was draped over his shoulder, right down to… feet?! “It’s his skin,” she replied. “He’s been flayed.”
Hold on… I took out my phone and Googled it.
Sure enough, the statue portrays St. Bartholomew, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, who was indeed flayed alive and then beheaded. What could he possibly have done to earn that punishment, you ask? Why, convert the King of Armenia to Christianity, of course! The king’s brother was none too pleased and ordered that horrible style of execution that he believed matched the crime. (Why didn’t the king stop it? Who knows…)
The statue was carved by Marco d’Agrate in 1562 and placed in Milan’s cathedral. The artist carved his name at the bottom, obviously very proud of his work, saying, “I was not sculpted by Praxiteles,” – one of the most renowned sculptors of Ancient Greece! – “but by Marco d’Agrate”. And it really is an incredible piece of work, the attention to anatomical detail astounding.
However, I still think it’s freakin’ creepy.
What do you think? Creepy or cool?