Collection: St. Sebastian

ARTIST: Museum Religious Art Classics


Artist: Tanzio da Varallo – c. 1620 – 1630

A fevered intensity in this portrayal of Saint Sebastian marks it as a characteristic work by Tanzio, whose native village of Varallo in the mountains north of Milan was a major center of popular piety. The painter has shown Sebastian, who was persecuted as a Christian under Diocletian, being rescued by angels after the assault on him by the Emperor's archers. The thickset figure at the right who tenderly steadies Sebastian's body for the angel's ministrations may be Saint Irene, who nursed the martyr back to health.

The visual excitement of Tanzio's portrayal serves to convey Sebastian's state of emotional transport and transcendence of bodily pain. Contributing to the fervid drama is the extreme compression of the composition. Tanzio's large, solid forms are crowded by the frame, seeming to twist and strain to fit its confines.

His feast day is January 20.