BAGLIONE, Giovanni
(b. ca. 1566, Roma d. 1643, Roma)

St Sebastian Healed by an Angel

c. 1603
Oil on canvas, 95,9 x 75,5 cm
Private collection

Baglione's tender image of an angel delicately extracting an arrow from St Sebastian's side is indicative of the new emphasis placed on succour and compassion during the post-Tridentine period by the Oratorians and other religious orders. Images of St Sebastian bound to a tree and pierced with arrows had become increasingly popular from the fifteenth century on, partly because they gave artists an excuse to depict the male nude within a religious context. The inclusion of an angel tending the saint's wounds is very rare, but undoubtedly reflects devotional literature that recounted how Christ sent an angel to untie Sebastian and cure his wounds. The angel can also be linked to the contemporary cult of guardian angels, who were believed to take the outward appearance of youthful boys. Similar guardian angels can be found in Caravaggio's Stigmatisation of St Francis (Wadsword Atheneum, Hartford), Orazio Gentileschi's St Francis Supported by an Angel (Museo del Prado, Madrid), and Baglione's own St Francis Comforted by Two Angels (Private collection), which is dated 1601.

Baglione's two paintings are among the earliest examples of Caravaggio's influence on another artist. More irritated than flattered by the attention, Caravaggio openly ridiculed Baglione, claiming that he did not know a single painter who would praise him as a good artist. In truth, Baglione did not fully absorb the intricacy of his model. While in the St Sebastian he easily adopted superficial qualities, such as bold, raking light and fleshy, full-lipped faces, the carefully honed emotional depth of Caravaggio's work was beyond his grasp. The picture is listed in the 1724 inventory of Anna Maria Sannesio, the last direct heir of Cardinal Giacomo Sannesio, who had purchased Caravaggio's Conversion of St Paul after it was rejected for the Cerasi Chapel. There is a strong possibility that he was the original owner of Baglione's St Sebastian.