Hendrick ter Brugghen (Dutch, The Hague? Utrecht? ca. 1588 - 1629 Utrecht)
Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene, 1625
Signed and dated at top, left of center: HTBrugghen fecit 1625 (HTB in monogram)
Oil on canvas
58 11/16 x 47 in. (149 x 119.4 cm)
R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1953
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The tending of Saint Sebastian by Irene was a popular theme in seventeenth-century art, indicative of a contemporary drive to project Catholicism as a caring faith. The extraordinary power and pathos of Ter Brugghen's painting is largely due to the compact immediacy of the figures, and the artist's skilled manipulation of eerie, crepuscular lighting effects.
The popularity that the story of Saint Sebastian and Irene gained at the beginning of the seventeenth century was due at least in part to the Counter-Reformatory focus on the early history of the Church.1 Saint Sebastian was applauded as a militant defender and martyr of the Church, and as the epitome of steadfast faith; Irene, as a virtuous and pious woman. The increased importance accorded Irene in seventeenth-century depictions may have been fostered by the publication of Caesar Baronius's Annales ecclesiastici (1586), which placed much emphasis on her life. More generally, the seventeenth-century focus on the tender ministrations of Irene--rather than on the isolated and pathetic figure of the near-martyred (arrow-pierced) saint--expressed the Counter-Reformatory desire to project Catholicism as a caring faith, with a visible dimension of social responsibility.2
Saint Sebastian's intercession was commonly invoked against the plague, a disease that claimed many victims in pre-modern Europe. In Utrecht, for example, large numbers of people succumbed to the disease in the years 1624-32 and 1634-37.3 It is quite possible that representations of Saint Sebastian were inspired by particularly virulent outbreaks of the plague.
Although Saint Sebastian appears occasionally in Dutch art prior to the seventeenth century, the theme was decidedly more popular in Catholic countries such as Italy, France, and Flanders. In the northern Netherlands in the seventeenth century, it appears to have enjoyed widespread popularity only in Utrecht, one of the few Dutch cities that was predominantly Catholic.
Several representations of Saint Sebastian are known to have been commissioned by Dutch militia companies (schutterijen) under the patronage of this saint.4 In Utrecht, however, these companies played a comparatively minor role, and Carr's assertion that Ter Brugghen's painting, now at Oberlin, was commissioned by such a militia company appears to be unfounded.5
Like many other early seventeenth-century interpretations of Saint Sebastian tended by Irene, Ter Brugghen's Saint Sebastian adopts the formal conventions of depictions of Christ's Descent from the Cross: a pathetically lifeless, seminude male figure, supported and tended by two or more (female) figures. Compositionally, Ter Brugghen's painting is related to--and probably influenced by--nearly contemporaneous representations of the subject by other Utrecht Caravaggisti.
The earliest treatment of the theme by a northern Caravaggesque painter is the Saint Sebastian, by Gerard van Honthorst (1592-1656), which was possibly painted as early as 1620.6 Although this work includes only the isolated figure of the wounded saint, Saint Sebastian's slumped, lifeless pose may have been an important source for Ter Brugghen.7 The more specific subject of Irene tending to Saint Sebastian and removing his arrows was first introduced into the north by Dirck van Baburen (ca. 1595-1624), in a work probably painted in Utrecht shortly before the artist's death in February 1624.8 Baburen's composition gives equal weight to the motifs of deposition and healing embodied in the Counter-Reformatory vision of the event. Jan van Bylert's (1597/98-1671) Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene, signed and dated 1624, is also indebted to Baburen's innovative composition.9 In his study of Ter Brugghen's painting at Oberlin, Stechow also drew attention to an anonymous Italian Caravaggesque painting of Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene that may have been the model for one or all of these Dutch works.10
This enumeration of the formal sources for Ter Brugghen's Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene does not address the unique achievements of his masterful and poetic composition. The powerful immediacy of the three figures within the shallow space is heightened by the close cropping of the composition, and by the figures' seemingly inextricable fusion into a single pyramidal form. This monumental grouping is both softened and sculpted by the cool, silvery light that plays over the greenish forms of Sebastian's flesh, and over the muted tones and simple folds of the women's garments. The parallel alignment of the three heads, and the close proximity of the hands at the upper right, are concise reiterations of the greater pathos projected by the juxtaposition of Saint Sebastian's awkwardly slumped and inert body with the alert and tender efficiency of Irene and her maid. The frail clump of trees in the landscape at the right poses a similarly poignant contrast with the solid, yet equally vulnerable, body of the saint.
M. E. Wieseman
The date and place of Hendrick Jansz ter Brugghen's birth are not securely documented; he seems to have been born either in The Hague or possibly Utrecht, probably about 1588.11 He was a pupil of Abraham Bloemaert (1564-1651) in Utrecht, then traveled in Italy to complete his artistic training, spending most of his time in Rome. There he was profoundly influenced by the tenebrism and often brutal realism of paintings by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) and his followers. Ter Brugghen was recorded in Milan on his way back to Holland in 1614, and was back in Utrecht before April 1615. He entered that city's Guild of Saint Luke in 1616 or 1617; from 1620 or '22 until 1624 he was closely associated with, and may have shared a studio with, the painter Dirck van Baburen. Aside from a possible return visit to Italy between 1619 and 1621, he lived the remainder of his life in Utrecht, and was buried in the Buurkerk there on 7 November 1629.
Ter Brugghen was one of the leading representatives of Caravaggesque painting in the Netherlands. His sensitive and poetic style combines chiaroscuro lighting and simple, monumental forms with subtle painterly effects. Though clearly influenced by Italian painting, his work also carries echoes of Northern Renaissance traditions. Ter Brugghen painted mostly religious subjects and genre scenes (musicians and drinkers), as well as a few mythological and literary subjects.
Nicolson, Benedict. Hendrick Terbrugghen. London, 1958.
Blankert, Albert, Leonard J. Slatkes, et al. Nieuwe Licht op de Gouden Eeuw: Hendrick ter Brugghen en tijdgenoten. Exh. cat., Centraal Museum, Utrecht, 1986-87.
Collection Pieter Fris, Amsterdam ("Een Sint Sebastiaen van Ter Brugghe")
Given by Fris to Jan de Waale (Walé) in payment of a debt, 30 August 1668 12
Collection Jan de Waale
His sale, Amsterdam, 12 May 1706, lot 43 ("Een doode St. Sebastiaen van TerBrugge")
Private collection, Rouen, by 1841 13
Château de Laroque, Sarlat, Dordogne (former residence of the Archbishop of Beaumont)
Sale Sarlat, 11 May 1952 14
With Rolan Robert, Nice (1952)
With Frederick Mont, Inc., New York, from whom purchased in 1953
New York, M. Knoedler & Company, Inc., 1954. Paintings and Drawings from Five Centuries: Collection Allen Memorial Art Museum. 3 - 21 February. Cat. no. 39.
Fort Worth Art Center, 1954. Inaugural Exhibition. 3 - 20 October. Cat. no. 98.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1954. Dutch Painting: The Golden Age. 28 October - 15 December (also shown at Toledo Museum of Art and Art Gallery of Toronto). Cat. no. 81.
Urbana, University of Illinois Department of Art, 1955. Great Traditions in Painting from Midwestern Collections. 23 October - 27 November. Cat. no. 34.
Malmö, Sweden, Radhüs,1956. Masterworks from American University Museums (sponsored by the College Art Association). 30 June - 15 July (also shown at Utrecht, Centraal Museum; Birmingham; London, University of London, Senate House; Durham, University of Durham; Kings College; Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts; Liège, Musée des Beaux-Arts; Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts [as no. 37]; Marburg, University Museum; Tübingen, Tübingen University Museum; and Besançon). Cat. no. 45.
Kansas City, Mo., William Rockhill Nelson Gallery, 1958. Twenty-fifth Anniversary Exhibition. 11 - 28 December. Cat. no. 4.
Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exhibition), 1962. Masterpieces of Art. 21 April - 4 September. Cat. no. 24.
The Dayton Art Institute, 1966. Hendrick Terbrugghen in America. 15 October - 28 November (also shown at The Baltimore Museum of Art). Cat. no. 10.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1966. Treasures from the Allen Memorial Art Museum. 21 July - 11 September. No cat.
San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, 1966. The Age of Rembrandt. 10 October - 13 November (also shown at Toledo Museum of Art and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). Cat. no. 11.
New York, Wildenstein and Co., 1967. The Italian Heritage (An Exhibition of Works of Art Lent from American Collections for the Benefit of the Committee to Rescue Italian Art). 17 May - 29 August. Cat. no. 57.
The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1971-72. Caravaggio and his Followers. 27 October - 2 January. Cat. no. 68.
The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1975-76. Extended loan for exhibition with permanent collection. 9 April 1975 - 22 December 1976. No cat.
Utrecht, Centraal Museum, 1986-87. Nieuwe Licht op de Gouden Eeuw: Hendrick ter Brugghen en tijdgenoten. 13 November - 12 January (also shown at Braunschweig, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum). Cat. no. 20.
Atlanta, High Museum of Art, 1996. Rings: The Five Passions in World Art. 4 July -29 September. Unnumbered catalogue.
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, 1996-97. Georges de la Tour and his World. 6 October - 5 January (also shown at Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum). Cat. no. 39.
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1997. Masters of Light: Dutch Painters in Utrecht during the Golden Age. September - 30 November (also shown at Baltimore, The Walters Art Gallery; and London, The National Gallery). Cat. no. 10.
Stechow, Wolfgang. "Terbrugghen's Saint Sebastian." The Burlington Magazine 96 (March 1954), pp. 70-72.
Stechow, Wolfgang. "Terbrugghen's Saint Sebastian." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 11, no. 3 (Spring 1954), pp. 145-49 (condensed from The Burlington Magazine).
Stechow, Wolfgang. "Saint Sebastian by Terbrugghen." The Art Quarterly 17 (Summer 1954), pp. 197-201 (reprinted from ).
Houtzager, M. Elisabeth. "Opmerkingen over het werk van Hendrick Terbrugghen." Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 6 (1955), pp. 144-46, 150.
Nicolson, Benedict. "The Rijksmuseum 'Incredulity' and Terbrugghen's Chronology." The Burlington Magazine 98 (April 1956), pp. 104, 107-8, 110.
Carr, Carolyn K. "St. Sebastian Tended by Irene: An Iconographic Study." Master's thesis, Oberlin College, 1956, pp. 70-72, 75, 81, 83.
Judson, J. Richard. "Gerrit van Honthorst: A Discussion of his Position in Dutch Art." Ph.D. diss., Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht, 1956, p. 88.
Pigler, Anton. Barockthemen. Vol. 1. Budapest and Berlin, 1956, p. 462.
Virch, Claus. "The Crucifixion by Hendrick Terbrugghen." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 16 (1958), p. 226.
Nicolson, Benedict. Hendrick Terbrugghen. London, 1958, pp. 5, 10, 13, 17-18, 41, 86-87, cat. no. A54.
Nicolson, Benedict. In Smith College Museum of Art Bulletin 38 (1958), p. 52.
Nelson Gallery and Atkins Museum Bulletin 1 (December 1958), p. 5.
Judson, J. Richard. Gerrit van Honthorst: A Discussion of His Position in Dutch Art. The Hague, 1959, pp. 89-90.
Miramonde, A. P. de. Review of Nicolson, Terbrugghen. Gazette des Beaux-Arts ser. 6, vol. 53 (May 1959), pp. 373-74.
Gerson, Horst. Review of Nicolson, Terbrugghen. Kunstchronik 12 (November 1959), p. 315.
Hamilton, Chloe. "Catalogue of R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund Acquisitions." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 16, no. 2 (Winter 1959), cat. no. 45, ill. p. 54; no. 3 (Spring 1959), ill. p. 227.
Plietzsch, Eduard. Holländische und Flämische Maler des XVII Jahrhundert. Leipzig, 1960, p. 144, fig. 251.
Nicolson, Benedict. "The 'Candlelight Master,' a Follower of Honthorst in Rome." Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 11 (1960), p. 153.
Gerson, Horst. "Hendrick Terbrugghen." In Kindlers Malerei Lexikon. Vol. 1. Zurich, 1964, p. 563.
Slatkes, Leonard J. Dirck van Baburen (c. 1595-1624). A Dutch Painter in Utrecht and Rome. Utrecht, 1965, p. 158.
Hendrick Terbrugghen in America. Exh. cat., The Dayton Art Institute, 1965, pp. 8-9, 31-33 n. 10.
Stechow, Wolfgang. "Terbrugghen in America." Art News 64 (October 1965), p. 50ff.
Gerson, Horst. "Klassizismus in der holländischen Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts." Kunstchronik 19 (1966), p. 318.
Rosenberg, Jakob, Seymour Slive, and E. H. ter Kuile. Dutch Art and Architecture 1600 to 1800 (Pelican History of Art). Baltimore, 1966, p. 25.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, pp. 148-50, fig. 54.
Gerson, Horst. Rembrandt Paintings. New York, 1968, pp. 20, 36.
Slatkes, Leonard J. "The Age of Rembrandt." Art Quarterly 31 (1968), p. 87.
Haak, Bob. Rembrandt, his Life, his Work, his Time. New York, 1969, p. 13.
Bissell, R. Ward. "Orazio Gentilleschi: Baroque without Rhetoric." The Art Quarterly 34 (1971), p. 290.
Spencer, John R. "The University Museum: Accidental Past, Purposeful Future?" Art in America 59 (July-August 1971), p. 84.
Spear, Richard E. In Caravaggio and his Followers. Exh. cat., The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1971-72, pp. 33, 176.
Nicolson, Benedict. "Terbrugghen Since 1960." Album Amicorum J. G. van Gelder. The Hague, 1973, p. 241.
Slatkes, Leonard J. "Additions to Dirck van Baburen." Album Amicorum J. G. van Gelder. The Hague, 1973, pp. 269-71.
Spear, Richard E. "Baroque Paintings from Ligozzi to Hogarth." Apollo 103, no. 168 (February 1976), p. 107.
Rzepinska, Maria. "Obraz Georges'a de la Toura w Muzeum Berlinskim: Ze studi-w nad siedemnastowieczna ikonografia sw. Sebastiana." Folia Historiae Artium 14 (1978), p. 33.
Bissell, R. Ward. Orazio Gentilleschi and the Poetic Tradition in Caravaggesque Painting. University Park and London, 1981, p. 67.
Hibbard, Howard. Caravaggio. New York, 1983, pp. 168-69, 311-12 n. 105.
Hoving, Thomas. "How many sublime works of art are there in American public collections?" Connoisseur (July 1984), pp. 45-46.
Haak, Bob. The Golden Age: Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. New York, 1984, p. 210.
Schuckman, Christiaan. "Did Hendrick Ter Brugghen revisit Italy? Notes from an unknown manuscript by Cornelis de Bie." Hoogsteder-Naumann Mercury 4 (1986), p. 9.
Slatkes, Leonard J. In Nieuwe Licht op de Gouden Eeuw: Hendrick ter Brugghen en tijdgenoten. Exh. cat., Centraal Museum, Utrecht, 1986-87, pp. 129-32.
Kloek, Wouter Th. "The Caravaggisti and the Netherlandish Tradition." In Rüdiger Klessmann, ed., Hendrick ter Brugghen und die Nachfolger Caravaggios in Holland. Braunschweig, 1988, p. 54, ill. p. 57. (Papers given at a symposium at the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum Braunschweig, 23-25 March 1987).
Kobayashi-Sato, Yoriko. "Hendrick Ter Brugghen's King David Harping Surrounded by Four Angels." Bulletin du musée national de Varsovie 29 (1988), p. 2.
Nicolson, Benedict. Caravaggism in Europe. 2d ed., rev. and enl. by Luisa Vertova. Turin, 1990, vol. 1, p. 192; vol. 3, fig. 1154.
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The painting was cleaned by William Suhr in 1952-53, before it entered the museum's collection.15 Narrow strips added at the top, left, and bottom of the canvas (probably fairly modern), which incorporated some "pictorial extensions" (tree trunks, leaves) and additions, were removed at this time. The painting is structurally sound. There is a vertical seam at about the center of the original canvas support. The painting was lined with a glue-paste adhesive, apparently in 1952-53. All original tacking margins have been removed. Along the top and left sides, margins of about 2 cm have been made up with gesso and painted in order to extend the margins of the painting. The texture of the paint surface has been flattened through excessive ironing, and there are some losses to the paint layer, most notably associated with two tears in the original canvas near the head and in the neck of Saint Sebastian.
In the lower right of the composition, Irene's gown was painted using the fugitive pigment smalt; the blue of the smalt has degraded and taken on a typically uneven, blanched appearance. The underlying reddish ground has been exposed over time through numerous abrasions in the paint layer in this area. There are pentimenti throughout the composition, most visible in the figure of Saint Sebastian (along his left leg, in the folds of his garment, along his waist and chin, etc.) and in the hands of the two women.
The painting was most recently cleaned and treated by John Brealey, Conservator of Paintings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in 1982-83. Treatment involved removing discolored and opaque natural resin varnish, and correcting and toning discolored inpainting.
1. On the theme of Saint Sebastian tended by Irene, see Anton Pigler, Barockthemen, vol. 1 (Budapest, 1974), pp. 468-70; Viktor Kraehling, Saint Sébastien dans l'art (Paris, 1938); and Saint Sébastien. Rituels et figures (exh. cat., Musée National des Arts at Traditions Populaires, Paris, 1983).
2. Philip Conisbee, "An Introduction to the Life and Art of Georges de La Tour," in Georges de la Tour and his World (exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1996-97), p. 90.
3. On the plague in the Netherlands, see Leo Noordegraaf and Gerrit Valk, De Gave Gods, De pest in Holland vanaf de late Middeleeuwen (Bergen, 1988); and Ronald Rommers, "De pest in en rond Utrecht," Jaarboek Oud Utrecht (1991), pp. 93-120. Concerning the prophylactic qualities attributed to depictions of Sebastian, see Noordegraaf and Valk, op. cit., pp. 165ff.; and Eddy de Jongh, "Een Apollo in plaats van een stekelvarken," Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum 11 (1963), pp. 71-79.
4. K. Künstle, Ikonographie der Heiligen (Freiburg, 1926), p. 527; see also Leonard J. Slatkes, in Nieuwe Licht op de Gouden Eeuw: Hendrick ter Brugghen en tijdgenoten (exh. cat., Centraal Museum, Utrecht, 1986-87), pp. 129-30.
5. Carr states that the Oberlin picture was commissioned by a militia company in 1623, but offers no proof of her assertion; Carolyn K. Carr, "St. Sebastian Tended by Irene: An Iconographic Study" (master's thesis, Oberlin College, 1956), p. 70, citing Benedict Nicolson, Hendrick Terbrugghen (London, 1958), p. 86.
6. Oil on canvas, 101 x 117 cm, London, The National Gallery, inv. 4503. In addition, Slatkes notes a Saint Sebastian painted by Dirck van Baburen in Italy in about 1615; the painting, now lost, is known through contemporary copies (e.g., at the Bob Jones University collection); see Nieuwe Licht op de Gouden Eeuw: Hendrick ter Brugghen en tijdgenoten (exh. cat., Centraal Museum, Utrecht, 1986-87), p. 132, fig. 86.
7. J. Richard Judson, "Gerrit van Honthorst: A Discussion of his Position in Dutch Art" (Ph.D. diss., Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht, 1956), p. 88; and idem, Gerrit van Honthorst: a Discussion of his Position in Dutch Art (The Hague, 1959), p. 89.
8. Oil on canvas, 108.9 x 153.7 cm, Hamburg, Kunsthalle. See Leonard J. Slatkes, "Additions to Dirck van Baburen," Album Amicorum J. G. van Gelder (The Hague, 1973), pp. 269-71; also idem, in Nieuwe Licht op de Gouden Eeuw: Hendrick ter Brugghen en tijdgenoten (exh. cat., Centraal Museum, Utrecht, 1986-87), p. 129.
9. Oil on canvas, 113 x 100 cm, signed and dated 1624, Rohrau (Austria), Graf Harrach'sche Familiensammlung, Schlo¤ Rohrau; see Nieuwe Licht op de Gouden Eeuw: Hendrick ter Brugghen en tijdgenoten (exh. cat., Centraal Museum, Utrecht, 1986-87), cat. no. 39.
10. Oil on canvas, 119 x 107 cm, Moscow, Pushkin Museum, inv. 2686, as "Roman, first quarter 17th century"; see State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Catalogue of Painting (Moscow, 1995), p. 193; and Wolfgang Stechow, "Terbrugghen's Saint Sebastian," The Burlington Magazine 96 (March 1954), p. 70, fig. 6.
11. Archival information collected by Marten Jan Bok and Yoriko Kobayashi ("New data on Hendrick ter Brugghen," Hoogsteder-Naumann Mercury 1 , pp. 7-34), substantially revises biographical information presented in earlier publications on the artist.
12. Abraham Bredius, Künstler-Inventare, vol. 6 (The Hague, 1919), p. 1985.
13. A dated drawing after the painting by Auguste Bigand locates the painting in Rouen at this time; see Leonard J. Slatkes, in Masters of Light: Dutch Painters in Utrecht during the Golden Age (exh. cat., The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1997), p. 158.
14. Leonard J. Slatkes, in Masters of Light: Dutch Painters in Utrecht during the Golden Age (exh. cat., The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1997), p. 158.
15. Notes on Suhr's treatment are in the museum files; additional information for this section is taken from Richard D. Buck's preliminary examination of the painting in June 1953, and Brealey's treatment report of May 1983 (both in the museum files).