Daily Work of Art

Title: St. Sebastian

Artist: Gustave Moreau

Completion Date: 1869

Style: Symbolism

Genre: religious painting

Technique: oil

Dimensions: 32.2 x 23.8 cm

Painted in 1869, Gustave Moreau’s Symbolist St. Sebastian cleverly perplexes and tantalizes its viewers. Legendarily executed in 288 A.D. by order of Tetrarch Diocletian, Roman centurions bound the young Christian to a tree and repeatedly pierced him with arrows. Since his death, the Vatican considered him a patron of soldiers, plague victims and Christian martyrs. Long understood as a homoerotic image, artists as varied as El Greco, Derek Jarman and Robert Mapplethorpe devotedly illustrated the comely youth’s sacrifice and death. Jarman’s 1976 film Sebastiane portrayed him as a victim of a centurion’s lust, who gave up his life for his Christian faith. With striated muscles and supple skin, Jarman’s youthful saint hung from a tree while phallically pierced by Roman arrows. Moreau’s St. Sebastian further engages this subtext while simultaneously depicting the young man’s fear and piety before his final end.

Perhaps the first aspect of Moreau’s painting that speaks to the viewer is its representation of St. Sebastian’s face. Trepidation, angst and adolescent sadness all flash out of his eyes while his pulchritudinous body remains strained. His Mediterranean face inspires sympathy while his full lips and flowing hair convey femininity. Moreau wisely blurs the painting’s background causing full attention to be focused on his boyish saint. Only a few layers of oil pigments were employed in creating this image. Unlike other paintings such as Salome Dancing before Herod and Jupiter and Semele, Moreau does not utilize glazing and layers for a ‘built-up‘ effect typical of Nineteenth century academy techniques. Sebastian’s flesh is painted in golden, wan tones with delicate smudges suggestive of light body hair at armpits and chest. As graceful and blooming as his ephebic saint, his Saint Sebastian exploringly palpates traditional conceptions of martyrdom and youthful attractiveness. One of Moreau’s maturer works, St. Sebastian cleverly depicts a saint usually found in Medieval and Mannerist works through a distinctly Symbolist lens.

About Peter Sayles

Peter Sayles ist eine junge rechtsextremistischem und glühender New Englander