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Work The Body of St Sebastian Thrown into the Cloaca Maxima

Department of Prints and Drawings: 17th century

Saint Sébastien jeté dans la 'Cloaca Maxima'

Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photo S. Nagy

Prints and Drawings
17th century

Grollemund Hélène

When Lodovico Carracci's painting The Body of St Sebastian Thrown into the Cloaca Maxima came onto the market in 1972, it shed light on both the subject matter and the date of this fine example of Lodovico Carracci's drawing. The remarkable composition and light effects in this drawing reflect the artist's highly individual sensibility.

The lyricism of death

The languorous grace of the dead youth, the violence with which the soldiers pull away the cloak covering him, and the group of soldiers carrying spears who appear in the right background are all sketched in with swift penstrokes and highlighted with expressive touches of brown wash. Lodovico's composition for this highly unusual subject is both intense and strangely expressive, organized as it is around the pallid luminosity of the saint's naked and dislocated body, placed in the foreground. In its suggestion of captured movement, and in the contrast between the harsh lines defining the soldiers' gestures and the transparent lightness and deathly pallor of the young man, this drawing achieves a quality of pure lyricism.

A commemorative commission

The corresponding painting was commissioned from Lodovico in 1612 by the papal legate in Bologna, Maffeo Barberini (later Pope Urban VIII), for an underground chapel excavated on the site where St Sebastian's body was found, the church of San Bastianello. This was later demolished to allow the enlargement of the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle. The work was for many years in the Barberini collection, where it was seen by Count Malvasia (1616-93). It is now in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu.

A distinguished provenance

In the catalogue for the Crozat sale, Mariette points out that the collector acquired a number of his Bolognese drawings from Malvasia. This was certainly the case for this late study, mentioned by Malvasia as part of his collection. From this it is tempting to deduce that one of the annotations on the drawing, "del Sig.r Lod.co Carr.," was added by this famous historian of Bolognese painting. The other annotation, in capitals, is in writing close to the hand found on drawings from the collection of Cardinal Santa Croce, as purchased by Crozat. It should also be noted that, according to the handwritten annotations in the copy of the auction catalogue preserved in the Louvre, Mariette was not among those who bought drawings by Lodovico Carracci at the Crozat sale, while annotations in the copy now in the Victoria and Albert Museum (London) indicate that Hecquet acted as his agent there (Hecquet pour moy).


Loisel Catherine, Le dessin à Bologne, 1850-1620 : La réforme des trois Carracci, Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1994
Bohn, Babette, "Ludovico's Last Decade," Master Drawing, vol. 25, no. 3, 1987, pp. 219-36
Bacou Roseline, Dessins du Louvre : école italienne, Paris: 1968

Technical description

  • Lodovico CARRACCI (Bologna, 1555-1619)

    The Body of St Sebastian Thrown into the Cloaca Maxima


  • Pen, brown ink and brown wash, on outlines in black chalk

    H. 13.7 cm; W. 18.7 cm.

  • Malvasia collection; Boschi collection; Pierre Crozat collection, sale Paris, 1741, no. 427; Pierre-Jean Mariette collection, sale 1775, part of no. 331? Acquired at this sale by the Cabinet du Roi

    INV 7720

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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Additional information about the work

Annotation in pen and brown ink, bottom left: LODOVICO CARACCIO; and bottom right: del Sig.r Lod.co Carr.