(b. 1698, Zell unter Welsberg, d. 1762, Wien)
St Sebastian and the Womenc. 1746
Oil on canvas, 60 x 37 cm
Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna
The cult of St Sebastian, who was probably a victim of Diocletian's persecution of the Christians, is documented in early Christian writings and has an unbroken tradition through to the 20th century. The scene Troger has chosen for his altarpiece refers to the legend that tells how Sebastian, Commander of the Praetorian Guard, was shot by archers on the orders of the emperor and later nursed back to health by the Christian Irene, widow of St Castulus the martyr. When he later continued to express his Christian faith, he was beaten to death,
Troger's Sebastian is not the youthful hero of Baroque paintings. There is no radiant certainty of salvation here. Instead, we see a wretched scene of suffering that does not even have the historic pathos of a key event. What is happening here is shown in a shabby secluded setting, far from the public eye. With pragmatic energy, a young woman is untying him, while Irene gently draws an arrow from his body. The suffering of his martyrdom is as tangible as the suffering of any sick neighbour. The assistance is so pragmatic and utterly unheroic that the spectator perceives it as a natural action. In this way, Christianity is shown as a faith that can be applied to daily life.