The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian
56.9 cm x 41.8 cm (22 3/8 in. x 16 7/16 in.)
(Moneglia, Italy, 1527 - 1585, El Escorial, Spain)
Medium and Support:
Pen and brown ink with brush and brown wash over traces of black chalk on cream antique laid paper, laid down
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, The Suida-Manning Collection, 2017
Luca Cambiaso is the first great master of sixteenth-century Genoa and the virtual founder of its distinctive school of painting. The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian is a masterpiece of Cambiaso’s early maturity. His forms, although still in the style of Michelangelo, have been disciplined, smoothed into more regular shapes, and given more elegant proportion than in his earlier work. Around this time he began to employ lines whose varied weight, length, and velocity allowed more elliptic description and flexible structure. This drawing also demonstrates a new level of spatial mastery. While the archers define a horizontal concavity, the saint and angels create a vertical convexity. These intersecting curves involve the entire composition in an energizing tension and virtuoso resolution. Finally, the drawing conveys a consonantly refined and lyrical expression of the saint’s pathos, conspicuous in his face yet woven through the fabric of the entire work.
The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian is no less sophisticated in function. Cambiaso’s earlier drawings still pertain to the graphic system of the early sixteenth century. This later example, rendered at high speed, emulates the summary notation of an advanced compositional study within that system. However, it was not preparatory, but conceived and executed as an autonomous work of art, as confirmed by its remarkable size. Such drawings enjoyed a tremendous success with the ambitious patrons of the artist’s paintings. The resulting production established the very idea of an independent market for drawings in which graphic character and individual personality are the commodities. The Blanton’s seven paintings and over a dozen autograph drawings by Cambiaso represent the most significant holdings of his work outside Genoa.