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The Martydom of St. Sebastian

Maerten De Vos,

WAG 1995.289

About this object

This drawing depicts the scene of Saint Sebastian’s martyrdom. The Roman soldier was persecuted for converting other soldiers to Christianity. Like many images made of the martyr, from the Renaissance period onwards, he is portrayed here as a handsome, muscular, young man with rippled torso. This contrasts with previous portrayals of Saint Sebastian as a middle-aged, stocky man. Similarly, this drawing follows other Renaissance imagery in depicting the Saint being shot with arrows as if this were the scene of his death. However, Sebastian survived this ordeal. He was nursed back to health by the Christian widow, Irene, only to be once again condemned to his death by the Emperor Diocletian. The saint was ultimately beaten to death, his body thrown into the sewer.

It has been suggested that this design was meant to be reproduced as an engraving or a medal. This idea is confirmed by the fact that silhouettes and internal details of the figures and landscape have been heavily indented with a stylus. However, although most of the 500 known drawings by Maerten de Vos were designs for prints no engraving is known which directly reproduces this image. The pose of the saint and the general placing of the archers is similar to that found in reverse in a rectangular engraving by Raphael Sadeler I ca.1584 after Maerten de Vos.

Maerten de Vos was a painter of altarpieces and the most prolific print designer of his generation. About 1600 prints are known after his designs. His busy, large workshop translated these into furniture, household furnishings, medals, and book illustrations, which were widely reproduced and distributed across Europe. He also influenced the work of his own pupils. Hendrick de Clerck (born in 1570, died in 1629), for example, painted an altarpiece for St. Martinus church in Asse, (Belgium) with a central panel of the Martyrdom St Sebastian. The preparatory drawing for this panel was based on the pose of the saint produced by de Vos.

After his death, Sebastian was canonised as a patron saint of archers and soldiers. It was also believed to be able to protect against the plague. It was thought that his courage in facing the arrows enabled him to immunise his devotees against the disease. Presumably whichever Guild might have commissioned the St Sebastian from Maerten de Vos had a particular connection with the saint, perhaps it was the Guild of Old Crossbowmen for whom he painted an altarpiece in 1590.

Object specifics

  • Artist(s)
    Maerten de Vos (Flemish, born:1532, died:1603-12-04)
  • Date
    Unknown or unrecorded
  • Materials
    Paper [Indented [?] roundel]; Chalk Black; Pen; Brown ink and brown wash
  • Measurements
    9.9 cm
  • Physical description
    A black chalk, pen and brown ink drawing set within a roundel of about 10 cm in diameter, depicting the scene of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian being shot with arrows. St. Sebastian is tied to a tree, on the far left, with his left arm aloft and his torso twisted in agony. Three archers on the right are firing arrows at the saint, against a landscape background.
  • Related people
    Charles Robert Blundell (Previous owner); Maerten de Vos (Artist/maker); William Roscoe (Previous owner); Saint Sebastian (Subject of); The Trustees of The Weld Heirlooms Settlement (Previous owner)
  • Other number(s)
    WAG Inventory Number: 11303
  • Credit line
    Purchased from the Trustees of the Weld Heirlooms Settlement with the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund, Sir Denis Mahon and British Nuclear Fuels in 1995
  • Location
    Item not currently on display
  • Collection
    From the World Museum collections

Ownership

Previous owners

  • The Trustees of The Weld Heirlooms Settlement

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: 1995
    Disposal method: Sold to the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside
  • Charles Robert Blundell

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Roscoe sale 1816, lot 455, as de Vos, bought by Dom. Slater on behalf of Charles Blundell
    Owned until: 1837
    Disposal method: By descent to the Weld family
  • William Roscoe

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: 1816
    Disposal method: Roscoe sale, 1816

Inscriptions

Item inscriptions

  • Inscription text: M.D. VOS
    Inscription method: Ink
    Inscription note:
    Inscription location: Base; Centre; Front; On plate
  • Inscription text: 455
    Inscription method: Pencil
    Inscription note:
    Inscription location: Lower right; Verso
  • Inscription text: [part of a small fleur-de-lys above an elaborate shield, Heawood 75 (Amsterdam, 1730)]
    Inscription method: Imprinted
    Inscription note:
    Inscription location: Mount
Object view = Fine Art
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