Lot 26
  • 26

Damien Hirst

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  • Damien Hirst
  • Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain
  • inscribed D. Hirst, numbered 3/3, titled and stamped with the Pangolin foundry mark and hallmarked
  • gold-plated silver
  • 250 by 110 by 95cm.
  • 98 3/8 by 43 1/4 by 37 3/8 in.

Catalogue Note

Damien Hirst’s Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain sees the artist spectacularly reimagine the Christian iconographical tradition of depicting the martyred Apostles of Christ. Commanding an air of power and authority that belies the subject’s tortuous end, the serene saint – who was flayed alive in the first century for his beliefs – stands eight-foot tall, resplendent in gold. A pair of scissors and a scalpel – a reference to the instruments of torture inflicted on the martyr – are held in either hand and his flayed skin is draped over his upwardly outstretched arm.

Saint Bartholomew, one of the twelve Apostles, has remained a popular subject within the Christian art historical tradition. In Hirst’s interpretation, the saint – his taut body recalling anatomical diagrams of human musculature – stands on a table littered with artists’ tools. Drawing clear parallels with Jean-Antoine Houdon’s l’Écorché (Flayed Man) from 1767, Hirst’s sculpture challenges the relatively recent demarcation of art and science, evoking the representations of Saint Bartholomew (the patron saint of doctors and surgeons) that were historically used as teaching aids for medical students. As in so much of Hirst’s work, the relationship between religion, science and art is playfully dissected. The artist was deeply affected by the often-gruesome religious imagery he was exposed to as a child, growing up in a Catholic household. As a teenager, he made repeated visits to a mortuary, where he produced sketches of the corpses, simultaneously studying the anatomical make-up of the body and attempting to address his fear of death. These early experiences undoubtedly informed the development of Hirst’s visual language and his examination of the complex, frequently blurred areas of intersection between belief, religion and science have produced some of the artist’s most challenging and important work to date.

Explaining the enduring fascination with the Apostles, Hirst explains: ‘they are great stories and it is about the ends of those guys. Cut just like a group of people who all met these terrible ends... Everyone is a martyr really in life. So I think you can use that as an example of your own life, just that kind of involvement with the world. Just trying to find out what your life actually amounts to, in the end’ (the artist in Damien Hirst (exhibition catalogue), Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples 2004, p. 223).

Within the magnificent setting of Chatsworth’s 17th century chapel, Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain stands resolute beneath Antonio Verrio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (1692) and flanked by Caius Gabriel Cibber’s alabaster sculptures Faith and Justice. The ecclesiastical setting in which the sculpture is presented serves to further Hirst’s profound and poetic examination of the complexities of contemporary belief systems. As he explains: ‘I like the confusion you get between science and religion…that’s where belief lies and art as well’ (the artist in Beyond Belief (exhibition catalogue), White Cube, London, 2008, pp. 26–27).