’I am well done – please go on eating’ – Food, Digestion, and Humour in Late Medieval Danish Wall Paintings

Tintoretto's - The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence of Rome

Tintoretto’s – The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence of Rome

’I am well done – please go on eating’ –  Food, Digestion, and Humour in Late Medieval Danish Wall Paintings

Axel Bolvig

Grant risee? The Medieval Comic Presence / La Présence comique médiévale: Essays in Memory of Brian J. Levy, (2006)


Beer, Butter, Intestines, and Grilled Human Flesh

Jesus never laughed or smiled. Holy people behave like Him: they tend to be solemn, austere, and their body language is restricted. They ought in any case to behave like Jesus. But in late medieval Danish wall paintings some holy people rebel, and St Laurence even jokes. He seems to take part in a widespread change in attitudes in the visual language of northern Europe during the fifteenth century. What is more, in Danish wall paintings he is one of the most commonly depicted holy people. In a comprehensive index of the iconographic motifs of Danish wall paintings, the image of St Laurence appears more than one hundred times.

Representative depictions of St Laurence usually show him standing with a grill in his hand.  The grill refers, of course, to his martyrdom. In some churches he is depicted lying on the grill surrounded by his tormentors who kindle the fire under the saint. The fire blazes up and the tormentors use great pitchforks to turn St Laurence over. In two cases a scroll adds a linguistic commentary. This inscription refers to a passage from the Gospel according to Matthew which
reads: ‘ego autem dico vobis diligite inimicos vestros benefacite his qui oderunt vos et orate pro persequentibus
et calumniantibus vos’ (‘But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’). So, the contents on
the scroll are an externalcommentary, expressed not by St. Laurence but by Jesus according to the evangelist Matthew.

Click here to read this article from

Images that go with this article are available from

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

medievalverse magazine