Raphael’s Galatea (1512)

We have seen elsewhere how artists use the arrows of St. Sebastian, the saint's identifying attribute, as symbols for their own paintbrushes. Not only does the long, thin shape of an arrow resemble a brush but in pointing inwards, towards the saint, they suggest that “every painter paints himself.”

Raphael used spiritelli or putti for the same purpose in the Galatea even though they were not part of the story on which Galatea is based. Three of them shoot their arrow/brushes from the sky towards their motif, the story below.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Raphael, Galatea (c.1513) Fresco. Villa Farnesina, Rome

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As if to confirm such an interpretation, a fourth spiritello in the top left-hand corner holds extra arrow/brushes for his colleagues. Yet he does not store them in a quiver on his back as an archer might but bunched together in his hands like an artist might hold his brushes. 

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Captions for image(s) above:

Raphael, Detail of Galatea

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Years later Michelangelo portrayed St. Sebastian holding his arrow/brushes in a similar way and, as explained elsewhere, posed him as though he was his own executioner, thus strengthening the implication that “every painter paints himself.”

See conclusion below

Captions for image(s) above:

Michelangelo, St. Sebastian in Last Judgment

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For examples of how other artists have portrayed arrow/brushes in paintings of St. Sebastian, see MantegnaDurer, Michelangelo , Hans Baldung Grien, Carlo Crivelli, Perugino, Antonio Campi and, more recently, by Egon Schiele.

Notes:

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