Acquired from the above, 1970s
Ellen Fritz Clattenburg, The Photographic Work of F. Holland Day (Wellesley College Museum, 1975), p. 58
Estelle Jussim, Slave to Beauty: The Eccentric Life and Controversial Career of F. Holland Day, Photographer, Publisher, Aesthete (Boston, 1981), p. 79
F. Holland Day: Suffering the Ideal (Santa Fe, 1995), pls. 2 and 53
Pam Roberts, F. Holland Day (Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum, 2000), c. 74
The genesis and execution of this photograph is well documented. Its handsome subject was Nicola Giancola, an uneducated shoeshine boy that Day took under his wing and nurtured. Nicola was a frequent and pliable sitter. He served as the subject for several of Day’s most successful photographs from this period, including Pilat, Il Moro, and various portraits of St. Sebastian.
Day scholarship has fully explored the complex issues involved in our modern interpretations of his photographs. Scenes of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, depicting the young man’s body pierced by arrows and tied to a tree, had long been a popular subject in art and literature. While Day’s depiction of the Saint is of a barely clothed and tragically beautiful young man, seemingly in rapture rather than agony, a homoerotic interpretation of this image is too simplistic. In many of Day’s own articles on photography, he champions the photographer’s right to attempt any subject, even the sacred. ‘There has never been, during the history of the world, any worthy period when these subjects were denied to the painter or the sculptor. . . There will always be narrow minds to question the rights of portraying sacred subjects in any medium: to them the less said the better; but to those who criticize only the photographers’ right to these subjects, I can but advise patience’ (‘Sacred Art and the Camera,’ from The Photogram, February 1899, quoted in Curtis & Van Nimmen, F. Holland Day: Selected texts and bibliography, pp. 62-3).
Photographs by Day rarely appear at auction. At the time of this writing, no other print of this image is believed to have been offered. This photograph was deaccessioned by the Library of Congress which, along with the Royal Photographic Society, Bath, holds the largest collection of F. Holland Day photographs. Four platinum prints of St. Sebastian, including a tondo, remain in The Louise Imogen Guiney Collection at the Library of Congress.
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