Pierced by Arrows

Anonymous Nuremberg (XV cent) : St Sebastian (c. 1440). Bibilothèque Nationale (Paris, France). Woodcut.

 
 

Saint Sebastian is commonly depicted in art and literature tied to a post or tree and shot with arrows. This is the most common artistic depiction of Sebastian; however, according to legend, he was rescued and healed by Irene of Rome. Sometimes Sebastian is known as the saint who was martyred twice.

The earliest representation of Sebastian is a mosaic in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (Ravenna, Italy) dated between 527 and 565. The right lateral wall of the basilica contains large mosaics representing a procession of 26 martyrs, led by Saint Martin and including Sebastian. The martyrs are represented in Byzantine style, lacking any individuality, and have all identical expressions.

As protector of potential plague victims (a connection popularized by the Golden Legend) and soldiers, Sebastian occupied an important place in the popular medieval mind. He was among the most frequently depicted of all saints by Late Gothic and Renaissance artists, in the period after the Black Death. The opportunity to show a semi-nude male, often in a contorted pose, also made Sebastian a favourite subject.

 
 

His shooting with arrows was the subject of the largest engraving by the Master of the Playing Cards in the 1430s, when there were few other current subjects with male nudes other than Christ.

 
 

Andrea Mantegna

 
 

It has been suggested that the first picture was made after Mantegna had recovered from the plague in Padua (1456–1457). Probably commissioned by the city’s podestà to celebrate the end of the pestilence, it was finished before the artist left the city for Mantua. According to Battisti, the theme refers to the Book of Revelation. A rider is present in the clouds at the upper left corner (pic. 1). As specified in John’s work, the cloud is white and the rider has a scythe, which he is using to cut the cloud. The rider has been interpreted as Saturn, the Roman-Greek god: in ancient times Saturn was identified with the Time that passed by and all left destroyed behind him.

 
 

Giovanni Bellini (1460-64)

 
 

Sandro Botticelli (1474)

 
 

Albretch Dürer

 
 

Giovanni Antonio Bazzi “Il Sodoma” (1525)

 
 

The saint is ordinarily depicted as a handsome youth pierced by arrows. Predella scenes when required, often depicted his arrest, confrontation with the Emperor, and final beheading. The illustration in the infobox is the Saint Sebastian of Il Sodoma, at the Pitti Palace, Florence.

 
 

Cesare Da Sesto (1523)

 
 


El Greco

 
 

 San Sebastiano curato da un angelo (St Sebastian Healed by an Angel), Giovanni Baglione, c. 1603

 
 

Anton Van Dyck (1621-1627)

 
 

Peter Paul Rubens

 
 

José de Ribera (1651)

 
 

St Sebastien Attended by St Irene, Georges de La Tour, (c. 1649)

 
 

Honoré Daumier, 1849-52

 
 

A mainly 17th-century subject, though found in predella scenes as early as the 15th century, was St Sebastian tended by St Irene, painted by Georges de La Tour, Trophime Bigot (four times), José de Ribera, Hendrick ter Brugghen and others.

 
 

The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, by Ángel Zárraga (1911)

 
 

This may have been a deliberate attempt by the Church to get away from the single nude subject, which is already recorded in Vasari as sometimes arousing inappropriate thoughts among female churchgoers. The Baroque artists usually treated it as a nocturnal chiaroscuro scene, illuminated by a single candle, torch or lantern, in the style fashionable in the first half of the 17th century. There exist several cycles depicting the life of Saint Sebastian. Among them are the frescos in the “Basilica di San Sebastiano” of Acireale (Italy) with paintings by Pietro Paolo Vasta.

 
 

Antonio Bellucci, c. 1716-8

 
 

Saint Roch with Saint Jerome and Saint Sebastian (after a picture attributed to Alessandro Oliverio), John Singer Sargent, circa 1880-1881

 
 

Egon Schiele painted a self-portrait as Saint Sebastian in 1915

 
 

During Salvador Dalí’s “Lorca (Federico García Lorca) Period”, he painted Sebastian several times, most notably in his “Neo-Cubist Academy”

 
 

While Lorca was not a practicing Catholic, he was fascinated by Catholic liturgy and ritual, leading him to seek inspiration from religious themes such as the lives of saints which he would have studied while reading The Golden Legend by Jacobus de Vorgine. Sebastian relate to Lorca’s poetics as well as his relationship to Salvador Dalí.

 
 

Gabriele  d’Annunzio come S. Sebastiano, A. Salvini. In 1911, the Italian playwright Gabriele d’Annunzio in conjunction with Claude Debussy produced a mystery play on the subject.

 
 

St. Sebastian with St. Irene and Attendant,Eugène Delacroix, 1858

 
 

The American composer Gian Carlo Menotti composed a ballet score for a Ballets Russes production which was first given in 1944. In his novella Death in Venice, Thomas Mann hails the “Sebastian-Figure” as the supreme emblem of Apollonian beauty, that is, the artistry of differentiated forms; beauty as measured by discipline, proportion, and luminous distinctions. This allusion to Saint Sebastian’s suffering, associated with the writerly professionalism of the novella’s protagonist, Gustav Aschenbach, provides a model for the “heroism born of weakness”, which characterizes poise amidst agonizing torment and plain acceptance of one’s fate as, beyond mere patience and passivity, a stylized achievement and artistic triumph.

Sebastian’s death was depicted in the 1949 film Fabiola, in which he was played by Massimo Girotti.

 
 

In 1976, the British director Derek Jarman made his debut film, Sebastiane, which caused controversy in its treatment of the martyr as a homosexual icon. However, as several critics have noted, this has been a subtext of the imagery since the Renaissance.

 
 

Also in 1976, a figure of Saint Sebastian appeared throughout the American horror film Carrie, directed by Brian de Palma

 
 

Pietro Vannucci Perugino’s painting (c. 1495) of Saint Sebastian is featured in the  movie Wit  (Mike Nichols, 2001) starring Emma Thompson. Thompson’s character, as a college student, visits her professor’s office, where an almost life-size painting of Saint Sebastian hangs on the wall. Later, when the main character is a professor herself, diagnosed with cancer, she keeps a small print of this same painting of Saint Sebastian next to her hospital bed. The allusion appears to be to Sebastian’s stoic martyrdom – a role the Thompson character has willingly accepted for the betterment of all mankind. There may be a touch of authorial (or directorial) cynicism in making this “saintly” connection.

 
 

tumblr_lm64izZk8c1qcdvnmo1_1280Still from R.E.M.’s  Losing My Religion (Tarsem Singh, 1991) promotional music video

 
 

*I will be posting more artistic representations of St Sebastian on The Genealogy of Style´s new Facebook page
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A Statement in Favor of Individual Freedom

 
 

Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) – originally titled Le Bain (The Bath) – is a large oil on canvas painting by Édouard Manet created in 1862 and 1863. Rejected by the Salon jury of 1863, Manet seized the opportunity to exhibit this and two other paintings in the 1863 Salon des Refusés where the painting sparked public notoriety and controversy.

Odilon Redon, for example, did not like it. There is a discussion of it, from this point of view, in Marcel Proust‘s Remembrance of Things Past. One interpretation of the work is that it depicts the rampant prostitution that occurred in the Bois de Boulogne, a large park at the western outskirts of Paris, at the time. This prostitution was common knowledge in Paris, but was considered a taboo subject unsuitable for a painting.

It is not a realist painting in the social or political sense of Honoré Daumier, but it is a statement in favor of the artist’s individual freedom. The shock value of a nude woman casually lunching with two fully dressed men, which was an affront to the propriety of the time, was accentuated by the familiarity of the figures. Manet’s wife, Suzanne Leenhoff, and his favorite model, Victorine Meurent, both posed for the nude woman, who has Meurent’s face, but Leenhoff’s plumper body. Her body is starkly lit and she stares directly at the viewer. The two men are Manet’s brother Gustave Manet and his future brother-in-law, Ferdinand Leenhoff. They are dressed like young dandies. The men seem to be engaged in conversation, ignoring the woman. In front of them, the woman’s clothes, a basket of fruit, and a round loaf of bread are displayed, as in a still life. In the background a lightly clad woman bathes in a stream. Too large in comparison with the figures in the foreground, she seems to float above them. The roughly painted background lacks depth – giving the viewer the impression that the scene is not taking place outdoors, but in a studio. This impression is reinforced by the use of broad “photographic” light, which casts almost no shadows; the lighting of the scene, in fact, is inconsistent and unnatural. The man on the right wears a flat hat with a tassel, of a kind normally worn indoors.

 
 

Judgement of Paris (circa 1515). Engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi to a design by Raphael

 
 

As with the later Olympia (1865), and other works, Manet’s composition reveals his study of the old masters, as the disposition of the main figures is derived from Marcantonio Raimondi‘s engraving The Judgement of Paris (c. 1515) after a drawing by Raphael.

Scholars also cite two works as important precedents for Manet’s painting Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, The Pastoral Concert, 1508, attributed to either one of the Italian Renaissance masters, Titian or Giorgione, and Giorgione’s The Tempest, both of which are famous Renaissance paintings.

 
 

The Pastoral Concert (c. 1509), attributed to either one of the Italian Renaissance masters, Titian or Giorgione

 
 

The subject was perhaps the allegory of poetry and music: the two women would be an imaginary apparition representing the ideal beauty, stemming from the two men’s fantasy and inspiration. The woman with the glass vase would be the muse of tragic poetry, while the other one would be that of the pastoral poetry. Of the two playing men, the one with the lute would represent the exalted lyric poetry, the other being an ordinary lyricist, according to the distinction made by Aristotle in his Poetics. Another interpretation suggests that the painting is an evocation of the four elements of the natural world (water, fire, earth and air) and their harmonic relationship.

 
 

Giorgione, The Tempest (circa 1508)

 
 

There is no contemporary textual explanation for The Tempest, and ultimately, no definitive reading or interpretation. To some it represents the flight into Egypt; to others, a scene from classical mythology (Paris and Oenone) or from an ancient Greek pastoral novel. According to the Italian scholar Salvatore Settis, the desert city would represent the Paradise, the two characters being Adam and Eve with their son Cain: the lightning, as in ancient Greek and Hebrew times, would represent God who has just ousted them from Eden. Others have proposed a moral allegorical reading, or concluded that Giorgione had no particular subject in mind.