St. Sebastian Tended by St. Irene (c.1649) by Georges de la Tour

St. Sebastian Tended by St. Irene - Georges de la Tour - c.1649

Artwork Information

TitleSt. Sebastian Tended by St. Irene
ArtistGeorges de la Tour
Dimensions167 x 131 cm
Art MovementTenebrism
Current LocationLouvre, Paris, France, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany

About St. Sebastian Tended by St. Irene

“St. Sebastian Tended by St. Irene” is a significant artwork by Georges de la Tour, dated circa 1649. The oil on canvas piece is an exquisite example of the Tenebrism art movement and measures 167 by 131 cm. The genre of the painting is religious, and it is renown for its depiction of a narrative from Christian hagiography. The artwork is held in high esteem and is part of the collections at the Louvre in Paris, France, and the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, Germany.

The artwork stages a scene of quietude and care as St. Irene, accompanied by her maidservant, attends to the wounded St. Sebastian, who, according to legend, was shot with arrows. St. Sebastian is presented reclining on the ground, seemingly in a state of tranquility or unconsciousness, his muscular torso infiltrated by the arrows that mark him as a martyr. St. Irene, robed in a simple yet piercing red and black garment with a white cloth draped over her head, conveys a sense of solemn tenderness as she bends over to remove an arrow from Sebastian’s body.

The dramatic contrast between light and shadow is a hallmark of Tenebrism, and de la Tour masterfully utilizes this to direct the viewer’s focus. The source of light in the painting—a flame held at the edge by a maidservant—casts a luminescence that sculpts the figures, highlighting Irene’s compassionate expression and the gentle ministration of her hands. Meanwhile, the shadows envelop the background and edges of the composition, enhancing the intensity and emotional depth of the scene.

De la Tour’s painting is also noteworthy for its realistic portrayal of bodily forms and the use of drapery to accentuate the human figure. His controlled palette punctuated by the searing red of St. Irene’s sleeve further infuses the artwork with a silent but charged atmosphere, inviting contemplation on the themes of suffering and piety.

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