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Giovanni Battista Caracciolo, The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian (c. 1625)

For Artwork in Focus we explore individual artworks, critiquing their style and discussing their socio-political context. Today we look at The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian (c. 1625) by Giovanni Battista Caracciolo.

About the Work

Title : The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian
Artist : Giovanni Battista Caracciolo.
Year : c. 1625
Medium : Oil on canvas
Dimensions : 202.3 x 113.9 cm (79 5/8 x 44 13/16 in.)
Location : Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Caracciolo’s Style & Caravaggio’s Influence

Giovanni Battista Caracciolo was inspired by and closely studied the art of Caravaggio. The influence of the great master’s technique on Caracciolo is apparent in the latter’s paintings.

Caracciolo was known to add drama to his paintings through a skilled use of light and shadow. He used negative space and light to draw of the central elements of his painting.

As is explained by the Harvard Art Museums’ digital catalogue regarding the work in question :

“It depicts the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, the third-century Roman warrior killed during Diocletian’s persecution of the Christians. According to historical accounts, because of Sebastian’s refusal to relinquish his Christian faith, the emperor ordered that he be tied to a tree and shot with arrows.”

The painting’s central theme therefore related to the Christian faith; a common theme in paintings of the time.

The Museum further emphasises Caracciolo’s artistic style :

“Caracciolo heightened the emotional drama of the scene through his use of chiaroscuro, the violent contrast of light and dark hues on the canvas.”

Other Details

Giovanni Battista Caracciolo’s  The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian is housed in the Harvard Art Museums in Room 2210. It is part of the museum’s collection of the West Arcade.


To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit Artwork in Focus.

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