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In this series of four screen-prints, Saint Apollonia (1984), Andy Warhol’s Catholic upbringing shines through. Warhol’s subject is martyr and patron saint of dentistry, Saint Apollonia, who it is believed was tortured by having teeth pulled. Hence, Warhol depicts Apollonia holding up a tooth with pliers.

Andy Warhol Saint Apollonia for sale

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Meaning & Analysis

In 1984, Andy Warhol produced a series of four screen prints devoted to the martyr and patron saint of dentistry, Saint Apollonia. Each print in the series shows a portrait of Saint Apollonia, a virgin martyr who was tortured by Alexandrian mobs in Egypt in the 2nd century. It is believed that Saint Apollonia was tortured by having her teeth pulled out which is why Warhol depicts Apollonia in this collection of prints holding up a tooth with a pair of pliers.

The prints in this collection are inspired by a portrait of Apollonia which was made by the great Italian painter, Piero della Francesca, in the 15th century. The original painting depicts Apollonia with a sombre expression and sets the martyr against a cracked background which Warhol maintains in his prints. While Warhol often distorts the images that he uses as bases for his prints, the Saint Apollonia collection shows how the artist wanted to create a more authentic representation of the original, iconic painting. Warhol refrains from cropping the image and reproduces the cracks from the original which brings texture to the prints and reminds the viewer of the significant cultural and religious heritage that accompanies this painting of Saint Apollonia. Additionally, instead of using broad brush strokes, layering colours and misaligning shapes to distort the base image, Warhol demonstrates extreme precision in these prints, carefully applying colour and gestural lines to produce an accurate representation of Saint Apollonia.

In each iteration of Saint Apollonia, Warhol sets the Saint against a vibrant block-coloured background. Warhol uses brightly coloured crayon-like lines to delineate her facial features and emphasise the texture of her clothes and the cracked background against which she stands, stoically. Despite Warhol’s use of bold colours, the palette he uses is more muted when compared to his other Pop Art portraits of celebrities which means the original image of Saint Apollonia remains recognisable.

10 Facts About Andy Warhol's Saint Apollonia

Saint Apollonia (F. & S. II.330) by Andy Warhol

Saint Apollonia (F. & S. II.330) © Andy Warhol 1984

1. The series depicts Saint Apollonia, the martyr and patron saint of dentistry.

Though it might appear unusual, at first, for Warhol to turn his attention to Christian saints, his Saint Apollonia series is characteristically whimsical. Apollonia, the patron saint of dentistry, surrendered herself to martyrdom after a pagan mob tortured her by extracting her teeth. Indeed, she was a strange saint for Warhol to choose, but an eccentric choice typical of his oeuvre nonetheless.

Saint Apollonia by Piero della Francesca

Image © National Gallery of Art Washington / Saint Apollonia © Piero della Francesca c.1455/1460

2. The prints are inspired by a portrait of Apollonia by Piero della Francesca.

Painted between 1455-60, Piero della Francesca depicted Saint Apollonia on a gold ground, as was typical of Italian altar paintings from this period. Warhol’s screen printed series mimics Francesca’s original painting almost exactly, merely reimagining her portrait with bold colours to announce her as a modern deity.

Beethoven (F. & S. II.392) by Andy Warhol

Beethoven (F. & S. II.392) © Andy Warhol 1987

3. The series is typical of Warhol's focus on historical subjects in the 1980s.

Throughout the 1980s, Warhol increasingly turned his attention towards inspirational individuals from history, rather than the A-listers of his own age. Alongside Saint Apollonia, Warhol depicted Beethoven and Goethe, giving each of these historical icons the Warholian ’superstar’ treatment.

Cologne Cathedral (F. & S. II.364) by Andy Warhol

Cologne Cathedral (F. & S. II.364) © Andy Warhol 1985