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The Martyrdom of St Sebastian

Theodule Ribot · 1865


In this unusual illustration of the story of Saint Sebastian, successfully exhibited at the Salon of 1865, Ribot did not use the episode so often represented since the Middle Ages, in which the martyr is tied to a tree, his body pierced with arrows. He chose a later scene, when St Irene and one of her servants were bathing his wounds; only a broken arrow in the centre foreground and the remains of a rope around his right wrist recall his ordeal. Brilliantly lit by a light source coming from the upper right corner, the saint's body stands out against the shapes of two kneeling women in dark clothing looming out of the darkness and hardly discernible against the nocturnal landscape. The subtle shift from shadow to light is however not what visitors in 1865 would have seen as the industrially produced paints he used have evolved differently and the shadows in particular have turned black.


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