Homosexuality has been a topic of discussion and controversy for centuries. The subject has been both celebrated and demonized by different cultures and religions. As society has evolved, LGBTQ+ rights have become a significant global issue, with various religious groups struggling to adapt their beliefs to embrace the diverse sexual orientations. In this context, many have sought to find spiritual support and guidance from a patron saint. The figure who has emerged as a symbol of resilience and strength for the LGBTQ+ community is Saint Sebastian, the patron saint of homosexuality.
This article will delve into the life of Saint Sebastian, examine his connection to the LGBTQ+ community, and highlight where his portraits can be seen in Italy.
Saint Sebastian: the Patron Saint of homosexuality
Saint Sebastian was a Christian martyr who lived in the late Roman Empire. Born in the city of Narbonne, Gaul, he joined the Roman army to protect and support the Christians who were persecuted under the rule of Emperor Diocletian. His unwavering faith and dedication to his beliefs led to his eventual martyrdom.
Sebastian’s association with homosexuality stems from his life story and the circumstances of his death. As a young, attractive soldier, he was admired by both men and women. His martyrdom story is particularly resonant with the LGBTQ+ community: Sebastian was tied to a tree and shot with arrows by his fellow soldiers, only to be miraculously healed and later beaten to death. The arrows piercing his body have become a symbol of resilience and endurance, much like the LGBTQ+ community’s continuous fight for rights and recognition.
The image of Saint Sebastian as a young, semi-nude, and androgynous figure has also made him an appealing symbol for LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly gay men. His portraits often emphasize his beauty and vulnerability, which can be interpreted as expressions of sexual desire and longing. The use of Saint Sebastian in queer art and literature has further cemented his status as the patron saint of homosexuality.
Where you can see Saint Sebastian portraits in Italy
Italy, with its rich history and artistic heritage, is home to numerous depictions of Saint Sebastian. Two significant locations where you can admire his portrayals are the Vatican Museums in Rome and the Sforza Castle in Milan.
Rome – Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums in Rome boast a vast collection of artwork, including a noteworthy depiction of Saint Sebastian. The piece, an altarpiece titled ‘Saint Sebastian Receives the Crown and Palm of Martyrdom‘, dates back to the mid-16th century.
Although the authorship remains uncertain, it is attributed to either the circle of Girolamo Siciolante, known as Sermoneta (Sermoneta 1521 – Rome 1575), or the circle of GiorgioVasari (Arezzo 1511 – Florence 1574). This oil on panel painting measures 234 x 147 cm and is currently located in Room XI of the Vatican Picture Gallery, in the Pinacoteca building.
The altarpiece has an intriguing provenance: it was housed in the Roman College in 1771 before being transferred to the Vatican in 1773, where it appeared on a list of works to be restored. The painting’s history becomes uncertain around 1790, when it may or may not have entered the Pinacoteca of Pius VI. An engraving from the time of Pius IX places the artwork in the antechamber of the Bussolanti in the Quirinal Palace, and it was subsequently transferred to its current location in the Vatican.
This stunning portrayal of Saint Sebastian captures the moment he receives the crown and palm of martyrdom, symbolizing his unwavering faith and dedication to his beliefs. The artwork offers a glimpse into the life and legacy of Saint Sebastian, further illustrating his importance as the patron saint of homosexuality.
Milan – Sforza Castle
The Sforza Castle in Milan is home to a remarkable representation of Saint Sebastian, an oil painting on canvas titled ‘The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian‘, created by Vincenzo Foppa. The artwork is carefully preserved in the Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco.
Initially created on panel, the painting was once considered to be the work of Bramante for the ancient church of San Sebastiano. The church was later rebuilt, and the artwork was kept there until 1898, when it was transferred to canvas. Art historian Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle cites Bramante’s Milanese work as evidence of the importance of Foppa’s masterpiece, placing it among the most monumental paintings such as the ‘Adoration of the Magi’ housed in the London picture gallery and the ‘Lamentation over the Dead Christ,’ which was exhibited in Berlin and subsequently lost after 1945.
The painting depicts the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, who is bound and centrally positioned on a Renaissance pillar. He is shot multiple times by arrows fired by the archers present at the foot of the column. The colors, reminiscent of Bramante’s works, soften in the evening light as twilight approaches.
The two archers on the right are the protagonists beyond the saint; the red and white of their clothing enhance the drama of the somber work, with dark colors dominating the upper part of the canvas. The now-dark sky is touched by daylight only in the hilly landscape, which houses a perched, silent village.
To admire this significant piece of art, visit the Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco in Milan, where the captivating portrayal of Saint Sebastian’s martyrdom awaits you.
Untold History Tours
To gain a deeper understanding of the life and legacy of Saint Sebastian, consider embarking on a guided tour with Untold History Tours. These immersive experiences will take you through the historic streets of Rome and Milan, providing unique insights into the artistic and cultural significance of this enigmatic saint. You’ll have the opportunity to explore the magnificent art collections of the Vatican Museums and Sforza Castle, delving into the fascinating history behind the captivating portrayals of Saint Sebastian.
By joining an Untold History Tour, you’ll not only be able to appreciate the beauty of these masterpieces but also gain a deeper understanding of the role Saint Sebastian plays as the patron saint of homosexuality. Immerse yourself in the world of art, history, and spirituality, and discover how Saint Sebastian’s resilience and courage continue to inspire the LGBTQ+ community today.
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