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The Cover
November 12, 2003

St Sebastian Tended by St Irene

Author Affiliations
 

The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate, MD, Senior Contributing Editor.

JAMA. 2003;290(18):2375. doi:10.1001/jama.290.18.2375

One of the most popular themes of Renaissance painting was the suffering St Sebastian. Barely clothed, bound to a tree, his contorted limbs and torso pierced with arrows, the subject could hardly have been more dramatic in drawing the attention of the viewer nor more suited to show off the virtuosity of the painter. Often the scene was enhanced by the addition of one or two other figures, usually female. Most often the figure was that of St Irene, sometimes with a companion, tending to the suffering Sebastian and attempting to relieve his pain. The latter composition was the choice of Hendrick Ter Brugghen (1588-1629) when he painted what is considered to be one of his most important works, St Sebastian Tended by St Irene (cover ). Completed just four years before his death at the untimely age of 41, the painting reflects Ter Brugghen's mature handling of the lighting effects and color usage he had learned in Italy from the works of Caravaggio and that would subsequently appear, transmuted, in the delicate works of his countryman, Vermeer. Two years earlier, in 1623, Ter Brugghen had already hinted at such innovations in two very different works: David Praised by the Israelite Women (JAMA cover, May 14, 2003) and The Gamblers (JAMA cover, September 10, 2003).

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