Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene

Hendrick ter Brugghen, 1625
Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin

Sebastian was killed because of his conversion to Christianity. Roman soldiers bound him and riddled him with arrows. Hendrick ter Brugghen depicts the moment after this torture, when he is tended by Irene and her helper. The dawn bathes the scene in a warm glow, at once poetic and comforting. The composition fills the entire canvas. Sebastian’s right hand is in the upper left corner and the toes of his left foot touch the edge of the canvas at the lower right. Parallel to this diagonal is the drooping head of the saint, and just above it, in the curve of his shoulder, that of Irene, who carefully removes an arrow from his back. Immediately above that is the head of her helper, who loosens the rope that constricts his gray hand at the wrist. His other arm is already free and hangs heavily along his left leg until it reaches the ground. The silent melancholy emanating from the scene and its ingenious composition make this painting the highlight of Ter Brugghen’s oeuvre.

Liesbeth M. Helmus, Senior Curator of Old Masters, Centraal Museum, Utrecht

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