‘The Martyrdom of Saint James the Greater’ is part of a series of 13 sculptures Hirst presented at his show ‘Romance in the Age of Uncertainty’, a major exhibition of new works at White Cube, Hoxton in 2003.
Each steel and glass cabinet represents the death and martyrdom of one of the twelve disciples, with the thirteenth depicting the ascension of Jesus. With the ‘Apostles’ cabinets Hirst deviates from the clean Minimalism of the ‘Medicine Cabinet’ series. Instead, the shelves of the ‘Apostles’ cabinets are filled with a variety of meaningful objects including skulls, old-fashioned laboratory glassware, religious artefacts and overflowing ashtrays. Only the cabinet ‘The Ascension of Jesus’ remains entirely empty but for the mirrored backplate. The shelves of this white powder coated cabinet have been removed from the main body and attached to the wall above, a dove is installed mid flight in the midst of the shelves. By way of contrast ‘The Suicide of Judas Iscariot’ consists of a black powder coated cabinet, its contents coated in blood with entrail-like coils of blood filled tubing emerging from the glass front.
Heavily exposed to Catholic imagery as a child, Hirst explains these works are partially “harking back to those old paintings”. He continues: “Everyone is a martyr really in life. So I think you can use that as an example of your own life, just that kind of involvement with the world. Just trying to find out what your life actually amounts to, in the end. To think that you can just take everything you have ever done and put it into a cabinet. To kind of say something like that, like this is it, that is the whole thing. It is like sand in the wind, everything just disappears. I was trying to do something like that. Maybe I am having a mid-life crisis.”
‘The Martyrdom of Saint James the Greater’ references the Christian teaching that James was murdered with a sword by Herod, by incorporating a blooded sword, running throug the interior of the cabinet.