“Saint Sebastian” Titian
The painting “Saint Sebastian” by Titian is considered to be the pearl of the State Hermitage. Why does this work affect viewers so much? Who is depicted on it?
In the early Middle Ages, a legend arose about the native of the Roman city of Narbonne, Sebastian. Having been educated in Milan, he went in search of happiness to Rome. Thanks to his courage and honesty, the young man attracted the attention of the Roman emperor Diocletian. Deserving his favor, Sebastian received an appointment to the honorary position of chief of the first cohort of the Imperial Guard, but did not justify the confidence. For his hidden commitment to Christians, he was twice sentenced to death. For the first time, the young man was shot with arrows, but he survived thanks to the help of Irina, the mother of her friend. Because Sebastian did not change his convictions, he was again executed — he was stoned and thrown into a sewer, from which, according to legend, St. Lucia took the dead body of the martyr and buried it in the catacombs on the Appian Way.
The image of a Roman soldier, a staunch Christian, canonized by the church, becomes one of the favorites in Italian art. In Venice, his cult also existed. Therefore, it is not by chance that all the famous Venetian artists, starting with Titian’s teacher Giovanni Bellini and ending with Veronese and Tintoretto, often turned to the image of the saint. For a long life, Titian was also attracted to this topic. In the early period of creativity, he twice depicted Sebastian in the church of Santa Maria della Salut and in the Vatican Gallery.
“Saint Sebastian” from the Hermitage – one of the latest works of the master. Majestic posture of Sebastian, tied to a tree trunk, personifies courage, composure and calm, despite all the torment. As inevitable, he accepts impending death and meets her with dignity. The irregular, restless light illuminated his figure and the suffering face facing the sky. The surrounding space helps to more fully reveal the tragedy of what is happening. Flames burst from the burning fire, casting reflections on the saint’s naked body. Smoke curls up at his feet, slowly rising upward. Dark, cloudy sky merges with the ground. Ominous reflections fall on the desert area, as if covered by the glow of a fire. It seems that with the death of the hero comes the moment of the tragic collapse of the world. But not hopelessness and despair expresses the work of Titian, but faith in the greatness of man and the indomitability of his spirit. Sebastian is not a fanatic, exhausted by lengthy fasting and prayer, but a beautiful young man who courageously confronts evil.
The impact that antiquity had on Titian’s work is well known. Like none of the masters of the Renaissance, he subtly understood the spirit of the art of that distant era. The basis of the artistic design of “St. Sebastian”, as well as other works of the artist, served as ancient images.
The Hermitage picture is based on balance, harmony of forms and smooth flow of lines. The basis for the embodiment of artistic ideas here is the color. The picturesque structure of the canvas is distinguished by the exquisite beauty and richness of the color range.
Titian achieves an amazing pictorial effect. Reddish, yellowish-orange, brown-yellow, black, gray and green gradations of color conveyed the figure of the saint and the surrounding space. “Saint Sebastian”, by definition, one of the researchers of the Italian master, “the richest symphony of colors, although it is dominated by mostly dark colors.”
The biographer of Venetian artists Carlo Ridolfi testifies that this picture remained in the house of Titian until his death in 1576. Nine years later, the artist’s son sold the house along with the works and property to the Venetian patrician Cristoforo Barbarigo. In the possession of the kind of Barbarigo “Sebastian” was almost three hundred years, until 1850, when the meeting was sold out, and “Saint Sebastian” along with other works of Titian came to the Hermitage.