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Saint Sebastian
Reni, Guido
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Reni, Guido

Calvezzano, Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, 1575 - Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, 1642

See author's file

Saint Sebastian

1617 - 1619. Oil on canvas.
Not on display

Sebastian was a Roman soldier who suffered martyrdom for his Christian faith during the reign of Diocletian and Maximian at the end of the third century. He was made a patron saint of the city of Rome and his cult became popular throughout Europe as he was invoked in times of plague. Sebastian is usually shown bound to a tree and shot with arrows in what turned out to be a first failed attempt at killing him. This is how Guido Reni shows him in this, one of his most famous compositions, of which several versions are known.

Reni had trained in the Accademia degli Incamminati, in his native Bologna, where young painters were taught to study the nude model and to copy the sculptures of Antiquity. Between about 1601 and 1614 he resided in Rome, and came briefly under the spell of Caravaggio, evidence of which is apparent in the dramatic nocturnal lighting of this painting. Reni spent the rest of his career in Bologna and became one of the most famous painters in Italy, making images characterised by a highly refined classicism and naturalistic elegance.

Reni`s Saint Sebastians are celebrated for their languid eroticism, with the version in Genoa (a different composition from this one) acquiring special renown in our time on account of a passage in Yukio Mishima’s autobiographical Confession of a Mask (1949), in which a glimpse of a reproduction of the painting in a book marks the beginning of the author`s voyage of sexual self-discovery. At some point in its history, probably during the eighteenth century, the Prado picture was considered too risqué and the saint`s loincloth, which suggestively slips down his midriff, was extended upwards by a censuring brush to hide more of his right thigh and lower abdomen. The decision to cover him up may have been taken by Queen Elisabeth Farnese, the second wife of Philip V, a very active collector of paintings and the first certain owner of the work. When the canvas was restored at the Prado in 1970 this passage of overpaint was left where it was. Before passing into the Spanish Royal Collection, the painting had apparently belonged to Juan Alfonso Enríquez de Cabrera, the ninth Admiral of Castile, a Spanish aristocrat who formed a spectacular collection of more than 900 paintings, including works by Titian, Raphael and Rubens, many of which were commissioned or acquired in Italy where he served the Crown as viceroy of Sicily (1641-44), then viceroy of Naples (1644-46) and finally as ambassador in Rome in 1646.

Reni painted the flesh tones with great skill over a reddish-brown ground; employed a dense criss-crossing of strokes of ivory white in the highlighted areas, the shoulders and chest for example; whereas in the half-shadows he painted in thin, transparent glazes over the ground.

Although there are no pentimenti visible under X-ray, the work gives the impression of having been painted boldly and confidently in one session. Two other versions of the painting, one in the Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, and another in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, also lay claim to autograph status. The presence of some underlying changes in the composition of the Dulwich canvas suggests it may be the primary version and that the Prado`s painting is a repetition by Reni. The artist in fact often repeated his compositions, sometimes with the assistance of studio collaborators. A dating in the later 1610s is generally accepted for the Prado painting, but the marked chiaroscuro makes an earlier date possible.

Finaldi, G., Guido Reni 'Saint Sebastian' En:. Italian masterpieces from Spain's royal court, Museo del Prado, National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, p.102


Technical data

Inventory number
Reni, Guido
Saint Sebastian
1617 - 1619
Height: 170 cm; Width: 133 cm
Royal Collection (Collection of Isabel Farnese, Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, Segovia, Room where mass is said ("pieza donde se dice misa"), 1746, no. 620; La Granja Palace, Office Rooms ("piezas del despacho"), 1766, no. 620; Royal Palace of Aranjuez, Madrid, Oratory and other rooms ("pieza del oratorio y otras sueltas", 1794, no. 620; Royal Palace of Aranjuez, Third Cabinet-Passageway to the Library ("tercer gabinete-paso a la librería", 1814-1818, no. 620).

Bibliography +

Inventario de las Pinturas del Museo Hecho a la Muerte del Rey, Madrid, 1834, pp. 47.

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Pintura italiana del S. XVII en España, Universidad Fundación Valdecilla, Madrid, 1965.

Salas, Xavier de, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972, pp. 538.

Baccheschi, Edi, La obra pictórica completa de Guido Reni, Noguer, Barcelona.Madrid, 1977.

Pepper, Stephen, Guido Reni. A Complete Catalogue of His Works With An Introd, Phaidon, Oxford, 1984, pp. 234/ lám.79.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 539.

Roy, A., Le Gout des Amateurs Pour Le Baroque Italien, Musees de Estrasbourg, Estrasburgo, 1987, pp. 107/ lám.39.

Emiliani, Andrea, Guido Reni. 1575-1642, Nuova Alfa Editoriale, Bolonia, 1988, pp. 68.

Fernandez Miranda y Lozana, Fernando, Inventarios Reales. Carlos III. 1789-1790. Vol. I, I, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 1988, pp. 34.

Spear, R.E., Reviewing the Divine Guido, The Burlington magazine, 131, 1989, pp. 371.

Pepper, D.S., Afterthoughts on the Guido Reni exhibition, Accademia Clementina, 1990, pp. 87-89.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas (I) La Colección Real, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990, pp. nº634.

Buendía, José Rogelio, El Prado. Colecciones de Pintura, Lunwerg Editores, Barcelona, 1994, pp. 304.

Loire, Stephane, Ecole Italienne,XVII Siecle.1 Bologne, Reunion des Musees Nationaux, París, 1996, pp. 298-299.

Bettagno, Alessandro, El Museo del Prado, Fonds MercatorFundación Amigos del Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1996, pp. 300.

Spear, Richard E., The Divine Guido. Religion, Sex, Money and Art in the World, Yale University Press, New Haven - Londres, 1997, pp. 374.

Aterido Fernández, Ángel; Martínez Cuesta, Juan; Pérez Preciado, José Juan, Colecciones de pinturas de Felipe V e Isabel Farnesio. Inventarios Reales, II, Fundación de Apoyo de la Historia del Arte Hispánico, Madrid, 2004, pp. 453.

Guido Reni : il tormento e l' estasi : i San Sebastiano a co..., Silvana, Genova, 2007.

Nicolai, Fausto, Mecenati a confronto : committenza, collezionismo e mercato..., Campisano, 2008, pp. 74.

Lágrimas de Eros, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza: Fundac, 2009.

Farina, Viviana, Al sole e all'ombra di Ribera. Questioni di pittura e disegno a Napoli nella prima metà del Seicento, 1, Nicola Longobardi Editore, Napoles, 2014, pp. 135 f.158.

Finaldi, G., Guido Reni 'Saint Sebastian' En:, Italian masterpieces from Spain's royal court, Museo del Prado, National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, pp. 102.

Finaldi, G, 'Guido Reni. Saint Sebastian'' En:, Splendor, Myth, and Vision : Nudes from the Prado, Clark Art Institute ; Museo Nacional del Prado,, 2016, pp. 172--177 n.26.

G. Navarro, C.; Perdices, A., La mirada del otro: escenarios para la diferencia, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2017, pp. 61 n.14.

Other inventories +

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 260.
260.-San Sebastian. / Alto 1,70. Ancho 1,33.-Lienzo. / Atados los brazos por la espalda á un tronco de árbol, y traspasado el costado izquierdo con una flecha, levanta los ojos al cielo, ansiando el momento de volar á la gloria de los mártires. Un paño blanco le oculta la parte inferior del cuerpo, dejando la pierna izquierda descubierta. Fondo, arboleda y celaje. Figura casi de cuerpo entero y de tamaño natural.-Efecto de luna.-Este cuadro caracteriza bien la segunda y mejor época de Guido. / Colec. de doña Isabel Farnesio, Pal. de San Ildef. Pieza que servia de oratorio. / F.L.

Inv. Isabel Farnesio, La Granja, 1746. Núm. 620.
Otra Pintura origl en Lienzo, de mano de Guidorene, que reptª Sn Sebastian áSaeteado; Dos Figuras a lo lejos. tiene seis pies, y tres dedos de alto, quatro y doce de ancho. Marco dorado liso ... 1

Inv. Testamentaría Isabel Farnesio, La Granja, 1766. Núm. 620.
Piezas del Despacho [...] 620 / Ôtro [quadro] de seis pies de alto, y cinco de ancho, marco dorado liso, que representa San Sebastian, del Abate Bacaro, vale quatro mil y quinientos reales

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Aranjuez, 1794. Núm. 620.
Pieza del Oratorio y otras sueltas [...] {268} 620 / Seis pies y quarto de largo y quatro y quarto de ancho: Sn. Sebastian. Guido Reni ... 2500

Inv. Fernando VII, Palacio Nuevo, 1814-1818. Núm. 620.
Tercer gabinete - Paso a la Libreria [...] {21290} 620 / dos varas y quarta alto dos ancho S. Sebastian en el martirio - Guer[...]

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 634.
Guido. / 634. San Sebastian. / Con los brazos atados por detrás á un trozo de arbol, y traspasado el costado izquierdo con una flecha, levanta los ojos al cielo deseando el momento de volar á la gloria de los martires. Un paño blanco le oculta la parte inferior del cuerpo, dejando la pierna izquierda descubierta. / Alto 6 pies, 1 pulg; ancho 4 pies, 9 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 634.

Inscriptions +

Inscribed in orange. Front, lower left corner

Fleur-de-lis, used as a collection’s mark belonging to Elisabeth Farnese. Front, lower right corner

Inscribed in white. Front, lower left corner

Exhibitions +

The Other’s Gaze. Spaces of difference
14.06.2017 - 10.09.2017

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

Italian Masterpieces from Spain's Royal Court. Museo Nacional del Prado
16.05.2014 - 31.08.2014

Lagrimas de Eros
20.10.2009 - 31.01.2010

Guido Reni. Il tormento e l'estasi
05.02.2008 - 11.05.2008

Guido Reni. Il tormento e l'estasi
05.10.2007 - 20.01.2008

Guido Reni
Fort Worth
11.03.1989 - 14.05.1989

Guido Reni
Los Ángeles CA
08.12.1988 - 12.02.1989

Guido Reni
10.09.1988 - 10.11.1988

Update date: 09-04-2022 | Registry created on 02-12-2015

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