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Saint Sebastian
Ribera, José de
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Ribera, José de

Játiva, Valencia, 1591 - Naples, 1652

Miniatura autor See author's file

Saint Sebastian

1636. Oil on canvas

During Ribera’s lifetime, Naples was a bustling port for trade and one of the most densely populated cities in Europe. The many trading ships from the eastern Mediterranean arriving every day in the crowded port were a vector for the transmission of infectious diseases, and that, coupled with the city’s overcrowding, made Naples especially vulnerable to epidemics of the plague. In fact, the plague of 1656 was so devastating that it wiped out about half of the city’s inhabitants and left a void in its artist population, as many of the best painters of that generation were prematurely killed by it. Since the Middle Ages, Saint Sebastian had been considered to be an intercessor against the plague, which made him especially popular in Ribera’s adopted city as well as in other places that fell periodic victim to the dread disease. It was the plague, then, that encouraged the Church and private patrons to dedicate churches and chapels to the saint, creating a demand for images such as this one.

Ribera’s depiction of Saint Sebastian is steeped both in naturalism and in the idiom of classical antiquity, reflecting the aesthetic preoccupations characteristic of the Italian art of Ribera’s time. The composition, with the half-length body of the saint located in the foreground very near the spectator and the bottom edge of the painting, is reminiscent of similar images by Caravaggio.

This composition allows the painter to focus his attention on the torso, whose volume and corporality are wonderfully realized, and which is illuminated by intense lateral light. However, instead of choosing a rough, everyday model for the saint, as the stricter tenets of Naturalism à la Caravaggio would have dictated, Ribera envisioned his physique as reminiscent of that of a classical Antique statue. This change of aesthetic ideal is due to Ribera’s exposure to paintings of the Roman and Bolognese school, such as, for example, those of the painter Guido Reni. The proportions and anatomy of the saint are portrayed with academic precision, while the face, in spite of its idealization, is individual enough to present the saint as a real, believable person. This picture appears in a post-mortem inventory of Velázquez’s workshop in the Alcázar of Madrid, and it is clear that it must have been studied and admired by Velázquez.

The paintings and drawings of Ribera, who was also a prolific and expert draftsman, show his interest in depictions of violence and torture. This led some critical commentators of the past, especially non-Spaniards, to imagine him as a sadistic and cruel character, and even to extend this prejudiced opinion to Spanish art in general. However, on most occasions, such as in this example, the artist chose to portray a less dramatic moment, rather than capitalizing on the subject’s potential and depicting a more brutal scene. In the case of the Saint Sebastian in the Prado collection (which is very similar to another by Ribera owned now by the Museo de Bellas Artes in Seville), only the arrows and the face turned upward introduce an element of violence into an otherwise serene and bloodless depiction of a male nude, in which lesser importance is given to the saint’s wounds than to the beauty of his anatomy. Here, the artist has preferred to emphasize the inner experience of Saint Sebastian as he quietly accepts his death and prepares to give up his soul and enter Heaven (Pérez d´Ors, P.: El Greco to Goya. Masterpieces from the Prado Museum, Museo de Arte de Ponce, 2012, pp. 115-116).


Technical data

Inventory number
Ribera, José de
Saint Sebastian
Height: 127 cm.; Width: 100 cm.
Royal Collection (New Royal Palace, Madrid, “tercera pieza de la Furriera”, 1747, n. 189; New Royal Palace, Madrid, “pieza de paso al dormitorio de la serenísima infanta-pieza de retrete”, 1794, n. 189; Royal Palace, Madrid, “cuarto del infante don Francisco-segunda pieza”, 1814-1818, s. n.)

Bibliography +

Inventario Real Palacio de Madrid. 1747, Madrid, 1747.

Inventario de las Pinturas del Museo Hecho a la Muerte del Rey, Madrid, 1834, pp. 9.

Lefort, Paul, La Peinture Espagnole, Librairies Imprimeries Reunies, París, 1893, pp. 145.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo ilustrado de la Sala de Velázquez en el Museo del Prado, J. Laurent y Cia., Fotógrafos Editores, Madrid, 1899, pp. 17.

Lozoya, Juan de Contreras y López de Ayala, Marqués de, Historia del arte hispánico, Salvat, Barcelona, 1945, pp. 136.

Trapier, Elizabeth du Gué, Ribera, [Hispanic Society of America], Nueva York, 1952, pp. 91/lám. 57.

Justi, Carl, Velázquez y su siglo, Espasa-Calpe, Madrid, 1953, pp. 565.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972.

Ascione, Benjamino, San Sebastiano Nella Storia e Nell'Arte, Il Vesuvio, Napoles, 1973, pp. lám. 52.

Spinosa, Nicola., La obra pictórica completa de Ribera /, Noguer, Barcelona.Madrid, 1978, pp. 114.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 552.

Fernández Miranda y Lozana, Fernando, Inventarios Reales. Carlos III. 1789-1790. Vol. I, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 1988, pp. 54.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990.

Benito Domènech, Fernando (1949-2001)), Ribera. 1591-1652., Bancaja, Valencia, 1991, pp. 173.

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Jusepe de Ribera 1591-1652, Electa, Nápoles, 1992, pp. 231.

Orihuela, Mercedes, Jusepe de Ribera. Fons Dels Museus del Prado i Sant Pius V, Museo San Pio V, Valencia, 1992.

Ribera, 1591-1652, Catálogo de la exposición celebrada en Madrid, Museo del Prado, 2 junio-16 agosto 1992, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1992, pp. 294.

Ribera, 1591-1652, Fundación Social y Cultural Kutxa, San Sebastián, 1993.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Pintura barroca española: guía, Museo Nacional del PradoAldeasa, Madrid, 2001, pp. 32.

Obras Maestras del Museo del Prado, The Yomiuri Shimbun, Tokyo, 2002.

Spinosa, Nicola, Ribera, Electa, Napoli, 2003, pp. 298.

Spinosa, Nicola, Ribera: la obra completa, Fundación Arte Hispánico, Madrid, 2008, pp. 408.

Del Greco a Goya. Obras maestras del Museo del Prado, Museo de Arte de Ponce. MNP. AC/E, 2012, pp. 38-39.

Portús Pérez, Javier, 'Jusepe de Ribera. Saint Sebastian'' En:, Splendor, Myth, and Vision: Nudes from the Prado, Clark Art Institute; Museo Nacional del Prado, 2016, pp. 178--181 n.27.

Other inventories +

Inv. Felipe V, Palacio Nuevo, 1747. Núm. 189.
PINTURAS EXISTENTES ANTIGUAS [...] En la tercera pieza [...] {10404} 189 / Otra [pintura] de San Sebastian de vara y media de cayda original del Españoleto = 3000 rs

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1794. Núm. 189.
Pieza de paso al dormitº. de la Sª. Ynfanta [...] Pieza de Retrete [...] {503} 189 / Otro [quadro] del mismo tamaño que el antecedente [vara y media de alto y cinco quartas escasas de ancho]. Sn. Sebastian. Yd. [Rivera] ... 4000

Inv. Fernando VII, Palacio Nuevo, 1814-1818. Núm. s. n..
Quarto del Infante Don Francisco [...] Segunda pieza [...] {21907} 156 / Dos varas menos tercia alto, vara y quarta ancho, San Cristobal con el Niño Jesus = San Sebastián

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 125.

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 125.
Ribera / 125. San Sebastián (media figura) / Se ve al santo mártir asaetado contra un árbol, con el costado y el brazo atravesado por dos flechas. / Alto 4 pies, 6 pulg, 6 lin; ancho 3 pies, 7 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 993.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 1095.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1942-1996. Núm. 1095.

Exhibitions +

Splendor, Myth and Vision: Nudes from the Prado
Williamstown MA
12.06.2016 - 10.10.2016

Intercambio con el Musée Calvet [Intercambio El Greco y la pintura moderna]
12.06.2014 - 15.10.2014

From El Greco to Goya: Masterpieces from the Museo del Prado
Ponce, Puerto Rico
25.03.2012 - 16.07.2012

Obras Maestras del Museo del Prado - Tokio
05.03.2002 - 23.06.2002

San Sebastián
24.07.1993 - 05.09.1993

José de Ribera
02.06.1992 - 16.08.1992

José de Ribera
27.02.1992 - 17.05.1992

José de Ribera: diez obras del Museo del Prado
16.12.1991 - 30.01.1992

Location +

Room 009 (On Display)


Displayed objects +


Update date: 06-04-2018 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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