Comparative Guts

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The Martyrdom of St Erasmus

about 1430–1440, by Master of Sir John Fastolf (French, active before about 1420 – about 1450). Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink, Leaf: 12.1 × 9.2 cm (4 3/4 × 3 5/8 in.)

The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. 5 (84.ML.723), fol. 38v

This scene of the martyrdom of the Christian saint, St. Erasmus of Formia, Bishop of Campania, (d. 303) appears in a small, decorated book of hours, meant to be consulted for private prayer. In punishment for the practice and the promotion of his Christian faith the emperor, Maximian Hercules (286-305) ordered that Erasmus’s abdomen be cut open and his intestines wound around a windlass. St. Erasmus, who wears a bishop’s mitre on his haloed head, is bound at his arms and legs to a plank. Three men crank the windlass that pull his intestines from a gash in his abdomen. The blue-robed bearded man who wears a crown and holds aloft a sword is the Emperor overseeing the carrying out of his command. St. Erasmus is traditionally held to be the patron saint of sailors and, appropriately, of abdominal pain.

Monique Kornell