The painting was formerly attributed to Bartolomeo Schedoni, as the name on the 19th-century English carved and gilt wood frame suggests.
It is remarkable that a painting of such high quality has not yet been securely attributed. The work's composition is closely related to a painting by Francesco Cairo in a private collection.1 It is an indiscutable fact that Cairo must have known it when he painted his variant: the cropped compositions are identical, the body of Sebastian runs diagonally across each picture space, his helmet visible front-on in the immediate foreground. Both are sensual renditions of the same religious subject but they come from different painting traditions. Cairo's painting recalls Lombard artists, in particular Morazzone, and has been dated to the artist's youthful period, that is to the second half of the 1630s. The present painting on the other hand seems to date from slightly earlier, around 1615-20, and is more akin to painters working in Rome. The influence of Carlo Saraceni is especially evident and echoes of the French painters working around Saraceni are also discernible; Guy François, Pensionante del Saraceni, and the Master of the Open-mouthed Boys among them. In 1637 Cairo was sent to Rome by the Duke of Savoy2 and it seems plausible to assume that Cairo must have seen the picture hanging in a Roman collection and, using it as his prototype, painted his own interpretation of this memorable portrayal of Saint Sebastian shortly afterwards.
1. F. Frangi, Francesco Cairo, Turin 1998, p. 248, cat. no. 36, reproduced fig. 45. Another version, of upright (painted oval) format and of inferior quality, was with Algranti, Milan, in 1967 and its authorship is questioned by Frangi: op. cit., p. 294, cat. no. A4, reproduced fig. 140.
2. Cairo is thought to have spent a year in Rome, from 1637 to 1638, but no paintings from this period have been identified thus far.
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