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According to legend, the emperor Diocletian recruited Sebastian in 303 AD to be an officer in the imperial bodyguard, but Sebastian continued to defend his Christian faith. The Legenda Aurea (1265/66; Golden Legend) also tells about the impressive healing of Cromatius: the severely ill prefect had summoned Sebastian and Polycarpus, a Christian priest. They immediately baptised him and he was miraculously healed. To further support this new faith, Sebastian destroyed hundreds of idols in Cromatius’s house. When Diocletian heard of it, he ordered the execution of Sebastian, who miraculously survived the archers’ attempt to kill him with arrows. Diocletian then ordered that he be beaten to death with clubs. The saint has been venerated since the 7th century for his ability to turn away the plague. In the early 15th century, it became usual to depict Sebastian – both north and south of the Alps – as a naked youth clad onlyin a loin cloth. Mantegna, who was the most important Upper Italian painter of the Quattrocento, became court painter to the Gonzaga in Mantua in 1459. This is the first of his Sebastians and was probably painted a short time earlier in Padua. It documents his intensive study of ancient architecture and sculpture. The ability to depict a space in exact perspective was an accomplishment of the early Florentine Renaissance. The realism in this depiction of Sebastian’s injuries and pain had seldom been found in such a clear and unmistakable form before. Perhaps the rider in the clouds at the above left is a reference to the transitoriness of human life. The archers have left the scene; three of them can be seen in the background at the left as they climb a curving path. Fragments of ancient sculpture at the left on the tile floor of a ruined Roman basilica are perhaps a reference to Cromatius. Like the architectural setting, they testify in particular to a reawakened knowledge of ancient culture. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010

Details

  • Title: St. Sebastian
  • Creator: Andrea Mantegna
  • Date Created: 1457/1459
  • Style: Early Italian Renaissance
  • Provenance: Collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm
  • Physical Dimensions: w300 x h680 cm (without frame)
  • Inventory Number: GG 301
  • Artist Biography: Painter, draftsman, and printmaker Andrea Mantegna was born near Padua, Italy, around 1431. At the age of eleven, he entered the workshop of Francesco Squarcione, who legally adopted him after the death of his father. At seventeen, Mantegna won his independence from Squarcione after bringing him to court for exploitation and fraud. During the fifteenth century, Padua's intellectual climate and relative abundance of classical works of art and artifacts helped shape Mantega's interest in classical antiquity. His precise, seemingly sculptural painting style reflects these influences. When Mantegna was only eighteen, he was commissioned to decorate the Ovetari Chapel of the Eremitani Church in Padua with frescoes from the lives of Saint Christopher and Saint James the Greater. Eleven years later, he was appointed court painter to the Gonzaga family, the rulers of Mantua. The frescoes he made for the Gonzaga palace, which glorified the family and their court in a compelling illusionistic style, were among his crowning achievements. Mantegna's fame never declined, and his influence extended from Italian artists such as his brother-in-law Giovanni Bellini to northern artists like Albrecht Dürer, who found Mantegna's interpretation of ancient art easy to assimilate. ©J. Paul Getty Trust
  • Type: paintings
  • External Link: http://www.khm.at/en/collections/picture-gallery
  • Medium: Oil on Wood

Additional Items

St. Sebastian (Supplemental)

St. Sebastian (Supplemental)

St. Sebastian (Supplemental)

St. Sebastian (Supplemental)

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