Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Gay Saint Sebastian in Art

Carlo Saraseni, St. Sebastian (1610-16)*

Today I want to take a more personal look at my own gay connection to the images of Sebastian’s arrow impaled body. On the surface, the empathetic gay male connection to Sebastian is obvious – after all, the repeated penetration of his body is a gay male trope. The plethora of Saint Sebastian images begins with Byzantium in the East, and the middle ages in the western Mediterranean. And, all are based on the double martyrdom at the hands of his mentor/emperor, Diocletian. The first attempt by the emperor to kill Captain Sebastian by archery firing squad failed, because Irene, wife of Saint Castulus, rescued Sebastian and nursed him back to health. After performing several more miracles, and not having learned his lesson, Sebastian lectured the emperor about his evil ways. The pissed off Diocletian had Sebastian beaten to death and thrown in an outhouse (total B&D imagery).

I have a thorough conscious and partially subconscious link with the images of Sebastian transfixed in ecstatic pain as the arrows piece his flesh. The association has been created over time, reinforced by every real or imagined slight suffered at the hands of heterosexual family members, friends, co-workers and enemies. Because of that association I have wondered at the extent to which the cultural bias has festered to become such a thorough persecution complex. After all, I am certainly not a saint. As testimony to that connection, I created a drawing of myself as Sebastian back in the 1980’s. Today, my shadow self protests, “How clichĂ©.” In fact, I embarrass myself, because as we, the LGBT people, slowly gain acceptance – the vision of Saint Sebastian as martyr and victim is incorrect. I don’t believe the saint saw himself as martyr. Instead, I think that he might have described himself as an agitator, even revolutionary in the cause of Christianity.

* Image obained from Wikimedia Commons ( 8:05 EDT, Thursday, June 25, 2009. The following quote is from Wikimedia. “This image is in the public domain in the United States. In most cases, this means that it was first published prior to January 1, 1923 (see the template documentation for more cases). Other jurisdictions may have other rules, and this image might not be in the public domain outside the United States.”


Will said...

The Saraseni painting is one Aebastian I didn't know. I think the single arrow loosely clutched by his right hand, rising from just above his groin, speaks for itself as a phallic image. Combined with the languid pose, the head thrown back in what could be post-orgasmic exhaustion, the isolated forest setting and the richly sensuous draping--none of which suggests a place of execution--I think the erotic, specifically homoerotic nature of the painting can be safely assumed.

KittKatt said...

Thanks for an excellent post on a fascinating topic. I'm thinking of doing a blog series (or even a book) on images of GLBT saints.

I also appreciate that you got the image from Wikipedia commons and credited it as such. I work hard to make sure I have permission for all images on the Jesus in Love Blog. Sometimes it seems like a thankless task, but I know it's worth it to honor the artists.