Tilman Riemenschneider of the day: Saint with double handled sword

I am not sure who this saint is.

But as I look at his face, his hands, his overall appearance, it seems to me the artist wanted to convey the impression of someone thoughtful, introspective, considering, wise. He is of mature years. In our age when youth is held up and pursued vigorously as the ideal, it is beautiful to see the traces of time honored on such a face. Here is someone I would like to sit down and talk with about the state of the world today.

Why is he carrying a double-handled sword? I cannot find in my library any indication of which saint might have this attribute. Can it be an allusion to Hebrews 4:12?

Indeed the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.

saint with two swords

5 comments

  1. Is there a photo of the full statue? Because maybe it’s not a 2-handled sword–maybe it’s two swords and a lack of depth in the sculpture is playing a trick on your eyes.

    If it IS two swords–well, then maybe it’s a reference to Luke 22:38?

    He is probably a disciple, based on dress (matches other Riemenschneider representations of disciples at Supper and so forth).

    1. @Abe Rosenzweig – comment #1:
      I have several pictures of this sculpture, including a full length one. The blades are enshrouded by his cloak, but looking at it carefully again now, and enlarging the bit that is above the drapery, yes, I think it could be two swords.

      10 points, Abe, for identifying the reference in Luke 22!

      It still doesn’t tell us which disciple this is, alas.

  2. Two questions:
    1. How can you be sure it is a saint?
    2. Are you sure it is not two separate swords?
    An image of the complete statue would answer the second question.
    A two handled sword would be very awkward to hold and use.

    1. @Bruce Janiga – comment #2:
      Bruce, the answer to question #1 is context of exhibition. It was paired with another figure whom I take to be James, with a saw, the traditional instrument of his martyrdom, in a display of religious works. Other clues as well: his face, pose, clothing. He would not be confused for a guard or some other figure in a passion sequence for instance.

      As for your second question, you see in comment 3 that I’m not so sure; it might be two swords. It was mystifying to me at the time.

  3. It’s St Paul the Apostle. Apparently, in Germany at that time, he was sometimes depicted with two swords (one for his mission, the other for his martyrdom), and echoes St Peter’s two keys. This source specifically discusses the depiction by of the apostle this way by this artist:

    https://books.google.com/books?id=OD8g4Eb-3EsC&pg=PA147&lpg=PA147&dq=saints+%22two+swords%22+art&source=bl&ots=hlfAAsFT8q&sig=P5zu36_8Xh6zZJQ2LH4MRr0lDmE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=iWeLVJm3KLXLsASpxYKABA&ved=0CEYQ6AEwCg#v=onepage&q=saints%20%22two%20swords%22%20art&f=false

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