Martín Bernat, Saint Blaise, c. 1480

Enthroned man wears heavily draped cloak and garments and holds a staff and steel comb

Martín Bernat

(doc. 1450–1505)

Saint Blaise

c. 1480

Oil and gold on panel

53 1/4 x 38 1/8 in. (135.3 x 96.8 cm)

Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas. Museum purchase, The Meadows Foundation Fund, MM.97.01

Hear a reading of the object label (1:14 minutes)

Object Label

This splendid devotional image depicts the fourth-century bishop Saint Blaise holding a crozier and a wool-carder’s comb, the implement of his martyrdom. Originally part of a larger, multi-paneled altarpiece, or retablo, it would have been surrounded by narrative scenes of Blaise’s life and surmounted by a Crucifixion scene, as was traditional in Aragon retablos in the late Middle Ages. Also characteristic are the sumptuous colors and variations of texture created where gilded areas have been punched, incised, and picked out in high relief (called embutido).

The Aragonese painter Martín Bernat is known for collaborating with other artists, including the renowned Bartolomé Bermejo (c. 1436–c. 1498). Bernat’s contact with Bermejo seems to have provided the inspiration for this panel, which echoes the composition of Bermejo’s famous Saint Dominic of Silos Enthroned as a Bishop (Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid), painted for Daroca cathedral (Zaragoza). Such artistic emulation was not only common, but often desirable since it resulted in a final altarpiece that was visually cohesive and consistent despite the contribution of multiple artists and their workshops. 

Image Description

This panel painting is approximately 4.5 feet tall by 3 feet wide and framed with gilded wood. It depicts Bishop Saint Blaise sitting prominently in the center of the composition on a large, ornately carved wood throne. A gilded backdrop that rises behind him on the throne frames his head and body. Saint Blaise is staring straight ahead at the viewer. He wears a white miter (bishop’s hat) embellished with nine large jewels that form a cross. A gold halo circles his head and miter. The figure’s hair is light gray. Around his neck is a white collar and over this is a pink shirt with soft folds that flows to his waist.

A long gray chasuble (liturgical vestment) with an ornate gold clasp drapes over Saint Blaise’s shoulders and extends across his lap to the floor. The wide gold trim of the chasuble is painted using thick gilded areas that have been treated to achieve texture and detail. He wears pink gloves and in his right hand he holds up a wool carder’s comb. In his left, he holds a long gilded crosier (ceremonial staff) that extends from the base of the throne toward the top right of the panel. A pattern of green, yellow, and gray squares decorate the floor and behind the throne is a patterned dark green wall.