Museums and Art

“Saint Sebastian and Saint Irina”, Jose de Ribera - description of the painting

“Saint Sebastian and Saint Irina”, Jose de Ribera - description of the painting

Saint Sebastian and Saint Irina - Jose de Ribera. 180.3 x 231.6 cm.

Most often, another fragment of the torment of St. Sebastian was used for the paintings - the moment of his execution by Roman archers. De Ribera chose another, rarely found motive - salvation and healing from wounds. The martyr untied, took out the arrows, washed the wounds and healed them another Christian saint - Irina.

Sebastian was a Roman military leader, a secret Christian. During the execution of Christian friends, he defended them. An angel appeared and blessed him, the crowd believed and accepted the forbidden faith. The angry emperor ordered the execution of Sebastian. He was tied to a tree and shot from bows. Obviously, he had many supporters among the soldiers, because not a single arrow pierced important organs.

At night, a local widow, Christian Irina, came to bury him. She removed it from the tree and saw that he was seriously wounded, but alive. It was this moment that the artist captured in his picture. The saint is not even completely untied yet - his right hand is stretched up, tied with ropes to a tree, and his body is already lying on the ground. The second hand fell limply to the ground, his head thrown back - a man unconscious after suffering. Saint Irina extracts a deeply piercing arrow from his body, and a woman standing next to her knees holds in her hands a large glass bottle with some kind of liquid - water or medicine.

This painting was painted by the artist in his early years and bears a pronounced imprint of the strongest influence of the Caravaggio school. This is manifested in the choice of colors and especially in the game of chiaroscuro on the canvas. Her background and most of the surroundings are immersed in deep darkness, the figure of the maid also drowns in the dark, barely outlined by restrained and also dark, muted colors. Against this deep, velvet background, the almost naked body of the saint literally shines in the moonlight. The face of Saint Irina is just as brightly highlighted. At the moment the arrow was removed, she turned her head to the maid and said something to her. Moonlight illuminated her face, highlighting the sculptural features and the hand that draws out the arrow.

Despite the fact that only three figures participate in the scene, its composition is quite complex, even intricate. This is typical of baroque. Two female kneeling figures, the almost diagonally located body of the holy martyr, his arm extended upward - all this serves to embody the artist’s plan. Despite the mean colors and restrained artistic decision of the canvas, it strikes with expression and expressiveness.

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