The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate,
MD, Senior Contributing Editor.
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).
Southgate MT. St Sebastian Tended by St Irene. JAMA. 2003;290(18):2375. doi:10.1001/jama.290.18.2375