Group B – Modern Martyrs

Modern Martyrs

Exploring the roles of Catholic martyrs in current society

The image of a Catholic martyr, hung upon gilded cathedral walls or reproduced in the pages of a prayerbook, is indisputably compelling. These figures, part historical and part mythological, undergo some of the most brutal methods of torture and execution that exist in the public imagination. They do this willingly, because of their faith. Even in the present day, when more of us are atheists than ever before, the sacrifice of the martyr strikes a powerful chord. 

But if not through religion, then how exactly do we connect to these figures? 

Modern Martyrs uses objects from the Rijksmuseum to examine the life-after-death of four Catholic saints: Sebastian, Thomas, Paul and Joan. Join us on a journey of not only secularisation, but expansion, as these fraught figures take on increasingly complex meanings. Each saint gains layer upon layer of significance, as new eras bring new identities, approaches and challenges. Narratives of pain and protection overlap with expressions of gender and jingoism to weave a rich tapestry that spans centuries. 

We invite you to explore the exhibition and see what meanings you make of your own. 

Pattern sampled from the collection St Sebastian for individual design

See image sources below for details

Image Sources

Main image:

Titelprent met engel die aan geketende Geloof het martelaarschap van Christus en de twaalf Apostelen toont, Dirk Janszoon van Santen, after David van der Plas, 1700, engraving RP-P-2018-857-2-1

Blood drop image:

Pattern sampled from St Sebastian, Juan Carreño de Miranda (attributed to), 1655 – 1665, oil on canvas SK-A-1425

Button images from left to right:

St Sebastian, Francesco Bonsignori (attributed to), 1470 – 1490,canvas SK-A-3991

Saint Paul, Macrino d’ Alba (attributed to), 1490 – 1527, oil on panel SK-A-4909

Miss Mary Kingsley (Joan of Arc), William & Daniel Downey, c1880- in or before 1890, paper RP-F-2001-7-245D-1

The exhibition uses the public collection of the Rijksmuseum and the licensing term is ‘public domain’.

More info:

See Rijksmuseum studio:


Anthony Ioannou | Chenyiran Xiao | Lehan Liu | Hannah Holden | Huachao Zhang | Zhiyan Jiang