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Final Farewell: The Culture of Death and the Afterlife


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Martyrdom of St. Sebastian

Michele Desubleo studied under Guido Reni of the Bolognese school of Italian painting. The Bolognese School flourished between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Italy. Typical of the Baroque style that was popular during this period, Desubleo organized his Martyrdom of St. Sebastian around a series of diagonals to create a dramatic, dynamic scene. Desubleo’s version follows conventional portrayals of St. Martyrdom of St. SebastianSebastian in which he is tied to a column and pierced with arrows.

According to legend, Sebastian was a soldier in Diocletian’s army. After converting to Christianity, he took advantage of his position to help other imprisoned Christians. When his activities were discovered, he was tied to a column, shot with arrows and left for dead. A widow named Irene saved him, but he was eventually seized again and clubbed to death. Sebastian was elevated to sainthood during the high Middle Ages. Since his skin was mutilated by arrows, St. Sebastian was invoked against the plague and other skin diseases. He was also the patron saint for athletes, archers, and tapestry makers.

Michele Desubleo
(Italian, 1602–1676)
Martyrdom of St. Sebastian
Oil on canvas
Lent by the Samuel Cupples House,
St. Louis University Permanent Collections;
Gift of Baroness Elizabeth la Candele de Ghysegha in 1845


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