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What lies beneath: Saint Agatha by Dorota Sadovská

Saint Agatha by Dorota Sadovská

Acrylic on canvas courtesy of Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum / Zbierka Collection

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Saint Agatha by Dorota Sadovská

Saint Agatha by Dorota Sadovská

Saint Agatha by Dorota Sadovská

Next Wednesday, February 5, is both the Feast of St Agatha, meaning her death day, and Slovakian artist Dorota Sadovská's birthday. St Agatha was born in 231 and died in 251 but the dates are uncertain. It was, after all, a while ago.

Beautiful and of noble birth, Agatha lived in Sicily, became a consecrated virgin and dedicated herself to a life of celibacy and prayer. Pursued by a high-ranking chap called Quintianus who lusted after her, Agatha said no.

Rejected, an enraged Quintianus imprisoned her in a brothel, but this resolute saint-in-the-making remained steadfast in her commitment to Christ. Quintianus, Mister Ego himself, then had her sent to prison, where she was burned, whipped and stretched on a rack. While Agatha endured all with good cheer, an infuriated Quintianus ordered her breasts to be cut off, but St Peter, appearing to her in a vision, comforted her and healed her wounds.

These miraculous cures maddened Agatha's tormentor even more, so much so that he had her stripped naked and rolled over hot coals and shards. A brutal ending, she died. Today St Agatha is the patron saint of rape victims, breast cancer, wet nurses and bell-founders - bell-founders because breasts and bells are similarly shaped.

Quintianus, deservedly, came to a bad end. On a sea voyage a horse bit him and lifted him in its teeth and a second horse kicked him overboard. He hasn't been found.

Sadovská's Svätá Agáta, painted in 2004, can be viewed in the magnificent Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum, on the Danube, 20 kilometres south of Bratislava. Sadovská was born in 1973 in Bratislava, where she studied at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design and later at the École Nationale des Beaux Arts, Dijon.

Her work explores the body and its representation, and Christian iconography. Though Sadovská's subject matter is centuries old, misogyny is still with us.

St Agatha, all in yellow and foreshortened, is viewed from above. Her expression is both strong and calm. Yellow here symbolises courage, self-confidence, wisdom, faith and the glory of God. Though nipples are banned on Instagram, in this artwork Agatha unashamedly displays her perfect breasts depicted in a book on pure white pages which she holds, reminding the viewer of what she has been through.

Sadovská has shown her work internationally including in Clonmel and Limerick, and her work is in public collections in Czech Republic, USA, Austria and Germany.

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