Titian’s Late St. Sebastian: Pestilence, Piety, Ineffable Emotion

Brian D. Steele


Titian’s St. Sebastian (c.1570–1575) warrants sustained examination in view of the facts that the artist elected to formulate a distinctive mode of presentation vis-à-vis his previous versions of the subject and sufficiently finished principal portions of the image to establish essential concepts. David Rosand has elucidated the image’s paragone with antique sculpture; I expand investigation about heroic characterisation, an allusion to Apollonian beauty, and variations on sculptural prototypes by comparing iconographic examples and textual accounts of the saint. In particular, the saint’s striding stance intimates a narrative prolepsis that mitigates static representation as a bound martyr and amplifies resonant thematic conceits; close reading, in turn, facilitates scrutinising period conceptions within contexts of Sebastian as plague saint, Venetian political circumstances, and Christ-like sacrifice. Non-finito handling implies the artist’s immersion in representing this St. Sebastian, who presents an evolving image of the righteous character that, heedless of physicality, actively pursues things of greater glory. St. Sebastian incorporated implications of the divine origin attributed to the plague but evolved into a magnanimous exemplar of faith in redemption through Titian’s practice of inhabiting all emotions depicted.

Parole chiave

Titian; Saint Sebastian; non-finito concept; plague; Apollonian beauty; Christian iconography

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.15162/2240-760X/1865


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