I went to the Blanton Museum of Art yesterday for a free screening of the documentary about activist artist Ai Wei Wei, Never Sorry (badass).
Then I went to go get some art in my brain. Strolling the cool, squeaky halls of the upstairs Blanton, I came across the above badass painting, St. Agatha, by Lorenzo Lippi. For those of you who have things to do besides hagiography, St. Agatha was a Christian martyr whose breasts were snipped off by some Romans. Romans hated Christians, right down to their boobies.
In the painting above, St. Agatha has mystically regenerated her boobs. She holds the scissors and gazes directly at the viewer, as if to say, “You don’t know shit.”
The boobs on the plate aren’t gory – they look like they just popped out of their packaging, two spare boobs ready to go, tiny nipples pert and ready for action. I imagined them being carried down the hallway, jiggling like pale, fleshy jello. And then, shamefully, I was hungry for some jello. I was also hungry for more St. Agatha knowledge. There isn’t just one painting of Ol’ Aggie displaying her breasts on a platter, oh no.
For centuries, St. Agatha has proffered her oddly presentable sweater puppies, adding a bizarre footnote to the long, rich history of patrons pretending to be interested in art and/or religion so they could get some boobs on their walls. This painting is by Piero della Francesca, created sometime around 1460. St. Agatha is less dynamic in this work, but the image makes more overall sense. St. Agatha is flat chested, and has the puffy, careworn expression of someone asking, “Are you happy now, weirdo?”
This St. Agatha, by Francisco Zabaran, 1630-33, knows you thought she wouldn’t show you her boobs. Coy, purse-lipped minx!
Much like Ai Wei Wei, Agatha wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she believed in (bringing it all together). According to Wikipedia, she was martyred in 251. Her legend goes that some gross Roman, Quintianus, told her some lame Latin pick-up line- “Carpe day-um, girl!” or some shit, which she summarily shot down. Quintianus reacted poorly, banishing her to a brothel. (You can remember his name like this: Why was that Roman so mean to Agatha? Because he had a sQuinty Anus.) Agatha wouldn’t cooperate with the brothel madam, either. You won’t get married or become a prostitute? What are you, boring?
So Romans sent her to prison, prosecuting her under the strict Roman edict of Get Freaky or Die. She was tortured by having her breasts removed.
AAAHHHHHH! THANKS A LOT, SEBASTIANO DEL PIOMBO, IN 1520!
Oh. But wait.
SO MUCH WORSE, GIAN NICOLO BUHAGIAR, 18TH CENTURY!
Luckily, St. Peter swooped down from the clouds and healed her wounds in prison, pictured below in a work by Giovanni Lanfranco, circa 1614. When dealing with boob wounds, protocol dictates that you bring at least one angel with you, to testify everything was kosher.
Looks ok to me.
But Agatha’s saint insurance only covered in-prison boob restoration, miraculous escape from unjust Roman imprisonment wasn’t part of the package. That would be a whole different…thing. Emperor Decius gets most of the blame for her martyrdom, because he was emperor and could, presumably, have said something. So she died in prison.
Here she is having gone to heaven, with a demurely downcast gaze, indicating that her platter of exquisitely still-perky bosoms will speak for her.
(I couldn’t find the artist/title/year for this painting. If anyone knows, please school me.)
She is celebrated widely in Sicily, Malta, and a few other Mediterranean-ish places.
Here are her pious boobs carved on a French wall. Niiiiiiice.
Nowadays, St. Agatha is the patron saint of bell-makers and round loaves of bread, because those are both boob-shaped things. She resides in heaven, where she has to deal with the bitter resentment of St. Lucy. “Hey, remind me again what virgins need boobs for? Oh, looking good? Ok, cool. I’ll just be over here.”