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Guido Reni (Bologna, 1575-1642)
Oil on canvas, cm. 127 x 92
Genova, Musei di Strada Nuova - Palazzo Rosso, inv. PR 77
From 1874 in the collections by donation of Maria Brignole - Sale De Ferrari, Duchess of Galliera
Reni, so famous in his time as to be called with only the name of baptism, Guido, often preceded by the exceedingly encomiastic adjective "divine", after a formation occurred at home, from twenty-five years had frequent and long stays in Rome, where he was greatly appreciated by the family of the pope and other members of the papal court. This canvas, where Saint Sebastian is represented, which according to tradition was a Roman soldier from Gaul who was martyred at the time of Diocletian, must be the result of that kind of commissions, because in addition to the high pictorial quality, Recent analyses have shown to add a valuable achievement, given that for the blue of the sky has been widely used lapis lazuli, so expensive to be usually provided or paid separately by the client.
The image, responding to the classical ideals of Reni’s poetics, does not show the body of a martyr scarred by darts and crossed by streams of blood, but the idealized body of a young man with a decidedly sensual beauty.
Dating to around 1615, the canvas was so successful that Cardinal Borghese wanted a similar version, at least in good part of the artist’s workshop, and now kept at the Pinacoteca Capitolina. Reni later has to be returned to this subject, proposing it with different variations: of this other type are known replicas in different museums of the world (Louvre, Prado, Dulwich Picture Gallery), but none reaches the quality of this, finished in the collection Brignole - Sale already before the end of the seventeenth century.