Guido Reni

Saint Sebastian

Saint Sebastian by Guido Reni

Artwork Detail

A second-century Christian martyr, Saint Sebastian was Diocletian's Commander of the Praetorian Guard, the most powerful arm of the Roman military. Unknown to his Emperor he converted to Christianity and openly evangelised among the prisoners condemned to his care, an action which led to his arrest. Sentenced to be shot to death with arrows and left for dead, he survived, was nursed back to health, and presented himself before the Emperor, only to be stoned and his body flung into Rome's largest drain, the Cloaca Maxima. Little wonder that this soldier-martyr became the focus of a huge cult in the Middle Ages, his popularity reaching its zenith in Counter-Reformation Rome. Artists of that time, such as the Bolognese-trained Guido Reni, painted innumerable images of the saint which attempted to make visible his powerful faith - a triumphant faith which survived overwhelming odds. Reni is known to have painted this subject at least seven times, and the Auckland version - purchased from the sale of the Duke of Hamilton's collection - is most closely associated with others in Bologna, Paris, Madrid and Puerto Rico. Guido Reni's distinctive silvery flesh tones intensify the saint's almost impenetrable aura of piety and devotion. His ecstatic pose is closely based on Michelangelo's Rebellious Slave, who like Sebastian, searches the heavens for strength and support in his time of trial. [from The Guide, 2001)

Saint Sebastian
Guido Reni
Production date
circa 1625
oil on canvas
1670 x 1276 mm
Credit line
Mackelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of James Tannock Mackelvie, 1882
Accession no
No known copyright restrictions
International Art
Display status
On display

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