Not Just a Pretty Face: Saint Sebastian in Religious Iconography and Magical Transformation

Albert C. Moore

Abstract


"Saint Sebastian is the outstanding example of the emphatically sexy saint ... " So writes Anne Hollander (Seeing through Clothes, 1978, 1993) in discussing the erotic freight carried by nude figures of martyrs in Christian art. The saint whose body is riddled by arrows raises fascinating and, I believe, important questions for religion and the visual arts. In my own case my interest stems, on the one hand, from studying religious iconography including the saints of Christianity and of other religions. On the other hand, these traditional images have been modified over the centuries, culminating in changes brought by modern culture and postmodernity, with the impact of the mass media, the consumer society and "the saturated self" (Kenneth Gergen, 1991). The relation of the sexualized body to the spiritual will be discussed in the concluding section of this paper. First of all we shall trace the development of the image of Saint Sebastian over the two millennia of Christianity, based on the following selection of illustrations from the history of art.

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