Francisco De Zurbaran’s 1628 oil on canvas painting of Saint Serapion is a portrayal of the young friar’s martyrdom. The Mercedarian Order commissioned it to hang in the De Profundis hall of their Seville monastery. The painting depicts Saint Serapion dressed in his white robe, with ropes tied to his wrists and his lifeless head hanging to the side.
Zurbarán is renowned for his portrayals of penitent or martyred monks and saints, and this work showcases that perfectly. What sets this artwork apart from other religious paintings is its extreme non-violence; there are no bloodstains or visible wounds on Saint Serapion’s body, making it a unique representation.
Zurbarán was a Spanish painter known for his religious paintings, still-lifes, and use of chiaroscuro—a technique characterized by strong contrasts between light and dark areas—making it even more significant that he chose not to depict violence in this particular piece.
Recently restored at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, this artwork has been exhibited in prestigious institutions worldwide. It remains an essential piece for those interested in Zurbarán’s oeuvre as well as anyone drawn to religious art depicting martyrdoms.