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Pieter Paul Rubens (Siegen 1577 - Anversa 1640)
Saint Sebastian Healed by Angels
Oil on canvas
155.5 x 119.5 cm
Sebastian, an officer in the Roman army and a convert to Christianity, was sentenced to death during the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian. He was bound to a pole or tree, and pierced by arrows shot by soldiers, who left him to die. But Irene, a noble Roman lady, took mercy on him and healed him, though another tradition holds that he was actually saved by the miraculous intervention of angels. Sebastian was once again led before the emperor, who ordered him to be flogged to death and his body disposed of in the Cloaca Maxima, the city’s sewer, so that it would remain unburied.
This work, painted by Rubens during his first stay in Rome, presents the iconography of the Saint being tended by angels. Sebastian is at the center of the scene, now almost completely freed from the rope and arrows, while on the left a fine suit of armor rests on the ground as a reminder of his military career. The balance of the composition, the evocation of the classical world of ancient Rome and the palette of warm tones, as well as the vivid fluttering of the drapery, are some of the most characteristic features of the Flemish artist’s Italian period.