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FEAST - A Saint for the Day (Jan. 20): St. Sebastian of Rome


John Dillon <[log in to unmask]>


medieval-religion - Scholarly discussions of medieval religious culture <[log in to unmask]>


Wed, 20 Jan 2016 20:35:52 +0000





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medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

The Roman martyr Sebastian (d. 3d cent.?) is first documented in the _Depositio martyrum_ of the Chronographer of 354, where he is entered under today as a martyr of the Via Appia.  According to St. Ambrose of Milan, Sebastian was a native of that city who was martyred at Rome.  His legendary Passio (BHL 7543; ineptly ascribed to Ambrose) is our earliest source for this saint's frequently depicted attempted execution by arrows, of which so many pierced him that -- still according to the Passio -- he came to resemble a hedgehog.  The same account -- which is set in the the persecution of Diocletian and Maximian and which previously had detailed his support of the twins Mark and Marcellian and many others --  then gives a rapidly healed Sebastian a final colloquy with Diocletian after which the saint is clubbed to death in the Circus and his body is dumped into a nearby sewer.  Instructed by Sebastian in a vision, a Christian matron named Lucina retrieves his body and buries it at a location in the catacombs near the remains of the apostles (Peter and Paul, of course).  When the persecutions have ended Lucina converts her home into a church and gives it to the church of Rome.  Thus far the Passio.   Lucina's church is of course the _titulus Lucinae_, the predecessor of today's San Lorenzo in Lucina. The burial site specified in the Passio is that of Sebastian's martyrial church on the Via Appia Antica, after several rebuildings over the centuries today's basilica di San Sebastiano _ad Catacumbas_ (or San Sebastiano f. l. M.).

Some period-pertinent images of St. Sebastian of Rome:

a) as depicted (third from right) in the heavily restored, later sixth-century procession of male martyrs (ca. 561) in the nave of Ravenna's basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo:


b) as depicted in a probably late seventh-century mosaic portrait in Rome's basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli:


c) as depicted (upper register, martyrdom; lower register, St. Blasius / Blaise) in a later twelfth-century breviary for the canonesses of Seckau (Graz, UB, cod. 832, fol. 18r):


d) as depicted (martyrdom) in one of four panels of a full-page illumination in the late twelfth-century so-called Bible of Saint Bertin (ca. 1190-1200; Den Haag, KB, ms. 76 F 5, fol. 35v, sc. 1B):


e) as depicted (martyrdom) in an earlier thirteenth-century collection of saint's lives in their French-language translation by Wauchier de Denain (betw. 1226 and 1250; London, BL, Royal 20 D VI, fol. 48v):


f) as depicted (at left; St. Mary Magdalene at right) in a mid-thirteenth-century glass window (ca. 1250-1260) in the west choir of Naumburg's Dom St. Peter und St. Paul:


g) as depicted (martyrdom) in a later thirteenth-century Cistercian psalter of upper Rhine origin (ca. 1260; Besançon, Bibliothèques municipales, ms. 54, fol. 15r):


h) as depicted (martyrdom) in the later thirteenth-century frescoes (1278 or 1279) of Rome's chiesa di San Lorenzo in Palatio ad Sancta Sanctorum:


A different interpretation (the BVM and St. John disporting themselves at archery?):


i) as depicted (martyrdom) in a late thirteenth-century copy of French origin of the _Legenda aurea_ (San Marino, CA, Huntington Library, ms. HM 3027, fol. 22v):


j) as depicted (at far right, martyrdom; at center, Sts. Mark and Marcellian) in an earlier fourteenth-century copy of books 9-16 of Vincent of Beauvais' _Speculum historiale_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (ca. 1335; Paris, BnF, ms. Arsenal 5080, fol. 218v):


k) as depicted (perhaps; the identifying inscription appears to have been re-painted) in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. 1335 and 1350) in the church of the Holy Ascension in the Visoki Dečani monastery near Peć in, depending upon one's view of the matter, either the Republic of Kosovo or Serbia's province of Kosovo and Metohija:


l) as depicted by Nicolò Semitecolo in several later fourteenth-century panel paintings (1367) in the Museo diocesano in Padua:

1) supporting Sts. Mark and Marcellian before the emperors:


2) martyrdom by arrows:


3) martyrdom by clubbing; his body dumped in a sewer:


4) entombment:


m) as depicted (at left; at right, a sainted pope) in a pair of late fourteenth- or fifteenth-century frescoes in the ambulatory of the abbey church of Sant'Antimo at Montalcino (SI) in Tuscany (the abbey claimed to possess relics of Sebastian given at its foundation in 781 by pope Hadrian I, who supposedly had received them from Charlemagne):



n) as depicted by Taddeo di Bartolo (martyrdom) in a remounted early fifteenth-century fresco (ca. 1400-1410) in Naples' Museo nazionale di Capodimonte:


o) as depicted (martyrdom) in the Suffrages of the earlier to mid-fifteenth-century Hours of Françoise de Dinan (ca. 1435-1450; a.k.a. Hours of Catherine de Rohan and of Françoise de Dinan; Rennes, Bibliothèque de Rennes Métropole, ms. 34bis [pt. 2 of ms. 15942], fol. 87r):



p) as depicted by the Master of the Bodensee (second from left, after St. Anthony of Egypt) in an earlier fifteenth-century panel painting in the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe:


q) as portrayed in a mid-fifteenth-century head reliquary (1450) in the Pfarrkirche St. Sebastian in Ebersberg (Lkr. Ebersberg) in Bavaria:



r) as depicted by Andrea Mantegna (martyrdom) in a mid-fifteenth-century panel painting (later 1450s) in the Kunsthistorische Museum, Vienna:


s) as depicted in a later fifteenth-century fresco in the left apsidal chapel of the crypt of the chiesa di San Ponziano in Spoleto:


t) as depicted by Sandro Botticelli (martyrdom) in a later fifteenth-century panel painting (1473) in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin:


u) as depicted (at right, martyrdom; at left, pope St. Fabian) in a later fifteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1475), attributed to Giovanni di Paolo, in the National Gallery, London:

1) Before cleaning in the 1970s (the National Gallery still calls this cleaning 'recent'):


2) After cleaning (the second image is clearer but the colors are off) :



v) as depicted by Antonello da Messina (martyrdom) in a later fifteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1476) in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden:


w) as depicted by Andrea Mantegna (martyrdom) in a later fifteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1480) in the Musée du Louvre, Paris:


x) as depicted (martyrdom) in the later fifteenth-century Hours of Dionora of Urbino (ca. 1480; London, BL, MS Yates Thompson 7, fol. 93v):


y) as depicted by Giovanni Baleison (martyrdom) in a late fifteenth-century fresco by Giovanni Baleison in the Chapelle Saint-Sebastien, Saint-Étienne-de-Tinée (Alpes-Maritimes):


z) as depicted (at left; at right, St. Anthony of Egypt) in a late fifteenth-century stained glass roundel in the Museum Schnütgen, Köln: 


aa) as depicted (martyrdom) in a late fifteenth-century stained glass roundel in the Musée national du Moyen Âge (Musée de Cluny), Paris:


bb) as depicted by Cosmè Tura (martyrdom) in a late fifteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1484) in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin:


cc) as depicted by Andrea Mantegna (martyrdom) in a late fifteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1490) in the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca' d'Oro, Venice:


dd) as portrayed (martyrdom) in a late fifteenth-century silver and silver gilt reliquary (ca. 1497) from Augsburg in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London:



John Dillon


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