The J. Paul Getty Museum

Saint Denis Holding His Head

Object Details


Saint Denis Holding His Head


Master of Sir John Fastolf (French, active before about 1420 - about 1450)


French or English


or England; France (Place Created)


about 1430–1440


Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink

Object Number:

Ms. 5 (84.ML.723), fol. 35v


Leaf: 12.1 × 9.2 cm (4 3/4 × 3 5/8 in.)

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Object Description

Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris, was beheaded in that city in the year 250. According to legend, angels accompanied him as he carried his own head from the place of execution to his chosen burial site, where later the church of Saint Denis was built just outside of Paris. Dressed in his bishop's garments, the saint is depicted with two haloes--one behind his decapitated head and a second behind the stump of his neck. This feature reflects medieval notions about the incorruptibility of saintly remains--the body does not decompose after death.

By including two haloes, the artist emphasizes Saint Denis's presence in each part of his body and the sanctity of his physical remains.

The Cult of Saints in the Middle Ages and Renaissance (October 26, 1993 to January 9, 1994)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), October 26, 1993 to January 9, 1994
The Cult of Saints (April 25 to July 16, 2006)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), April 25 to July 16, 2006