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Saint Sebastian seated and attached to a Tree

One of Ribera’s most beautiful drawings, this work demonstrates the artist’s expert handling of the chalk medium for shading and contour, his understanding of human anatomy, and his dramatic use of contortion in the figure’s elegant, sinuous pose, which echoes the slight S-curve of the tree trunk.

Although not related to any known paintings and lacking traditional attributes—such as the arrows of Saint Sebastian’s martyrdom—the motif of the kneeling or seated figure tied to a tree stump has been linked to other sketches of Saint Sebastian by the artist. In any case, the emotional impact of the scene does not depend on the narrative details of the religious story, but rather on the subtle expressiveness of the martyr’s fingers, the tilt of his head, the tension of his muscles, and the weight of his body as he slumps to the ground.

Jusepe de Ribera
Spanish, 1591–1652
Saint Sebastian seated and attached to a Tree
ca. 1627-30
Red chalk on paper
Image/sheet (irregular): 10 1/16 x 6 ½ in. (25.6 x 16.5 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Gift of William Lowe Bryan Memorial, 57.7