The Martyrdom of Saints Hermagoras and Fortunatus
Detail from the pulpit of Udine Cathedral
The emotion of the moment is heightened by the contrast between the pagan and Christian portraits. The executioner's figure recalls the naturalism of classical sculpture, nearly naked and strikingly muscled, whereas the two saints are clothed in dignity – Hermagoras in "apostolic" tunic and mantle that somehow float in the wind, and Fortunatus in the dalmatic and stole of a medieval deacon serving at Mass. Similarly, the carefully detailed figures of the soldiers on the right contrast with the softly stylized Christians weeping on the left.
Also important to the emotional value of the composition is the moment the artist has chosen to picture: the bishop's head has just been severed from his body, and Fortunatus bends to accept the stroke that is about to come. One does not actually see either of the beheadings, but the imagination contemplates them both.
More of SS. Hermagoras and Fortunatus
Source: Wolfgang Sauber via Wikimedia Commons