Giordano’s St. Sebastian Cured by St. Irene (c.1655)
St. Sebastian ought to be this website's icon. Indeed it is almost fair to say that he was the unrecognized icon of great masters, encapsulating in one figure how every painter paints himself. As the psychic reflection of the artist suffering the agonies of creative thought, Sebastian's nude torso is penetrated by arrows resembling paintbrushes shot from in front of the canvas. Trickles of blood resembling paint (and made from paint) tend to drip down the canvas. We have also already seen how Sebastian represents the "artist" in works by Dürer, Hans Baldung Grien, Mantegna, Michelangelo, Perugino, Antonio Campi and, in the 20th century, Egon Schiele.
In the seventeenth century a later episode in the story became popular, the moment when St. Irene pulls the arrows from his body and cures him. In these scenes Sebastian's body is once again "the painting." Artists, though, were able to use Irene's loving care as a metaphor for their own sensitivity in painting.
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See how in Luca Giordano's version St Irene carefully holds the "paintbrush" and cloth. Indeed it is not entirely clear whether she is pulling the arrow away from a wound we cannot see or is pausing while "painting" his knee. Irene is "the artist" and, as a woman, also reflects the male artist's androgynous mind.
Keep an eye out for scenes like this by other artists or for any figure holding an arrow; they may well be painting a picture.
More Works by Giordano
Original Publication Date on EPPH: 10 Apr 2011. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.