Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Saint Sebastian: The Erotic Saint

Saint Sebastian, (birth, unknown: died c. 288, Rome, Italy). His feast day is on January 20th. He was an early Christian popularized by Renaissance painters and believed to have been martyred  during the persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Diocletian.

According to his legend, he was born in Gaul, went to Rome, and joined (c. 283) the army of the Emperor Carinus, later becoming a captain under Diocletian. When it was discovered that he was a Christian who had converted many soldiers, Sebastian was ordered to be killed by arrows. The archers left him for dead, but a Christian widow nursed him back to health. He then presented himself before Diocletian, who condemned him to death by beating. His body, thrown into a sewer, was found by another pious woman, who dreamed that Sebastian told her to bury his remains near the catacombs.

His relics are believed to be in the Basilica of San Sebastiano on the Appian Way, to which many pilgrims were attracted in the Middle Ages. Sebastian’s martyrdom was a favorite subject of Renaissance artists, and it was depicted by, among others, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Sandro Botticelli, Andrea Mantegna, Perugino, and El Greco; the saint is usually shown as a handsome youth pierced by arrows.

Let me clue you in on a great little secret about paintings of saints and martyrs: it’s a long-standing excuse to paint nude women. You know how Renaissance artists were always saying things like It’s very historically important that I paint this naked babe with a swan that looks like a dick growing out of a snowdrift so that posterity never forgets the importance of Leda for Iliad reasons? The same thing with martyrs, a lot of the time, and the same thing only more so and especially for pal Saint Sebastian.
St Sebastian was martyred in the late third century. Despite the fact that he was probably clubbed to death, he is almost always depicted as having been shot to death with arrows. He is also depicted as a handsome young man who often looks like he is actually dying.
But the best part about Saint Sebastian is that he became a stealth gay icon in the 1800s due to his baby-like innocence and his arrow wounds.
The earliest gay icon may have been Saint Sebastian, a Christian saint and martyr, whose combination of strong and shirtless physique, symbolic arrow-pierced flesh and rapturous look of pain have intrigued artists, both gay and straight, for centuries and began the first explicitly gay cult in the nineteenth century. Journalist Richard A. Kaye wrote, “Contemporary gay men have seen in Sebastian at once a stunning advertisement for homosexual desire (indeed, a homoerotic ideal), and a prototypical portrait of tortured closet case.” Artists all over Europe were emphasizing the youthfulness of Saint Sebastian’s almost-discarded toga over the horribly gruesome death they were supposedly painting. The cuter the saint, the milder the death.
Erotic Paintings of Saint Sebastian

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