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Work St. Sebastian standing, in three quarters view, turning to the left

Department of Prints and Drawings: 16th century

Saint Sébastien debout, de trois quarts vers la gauche

Prints and Drawings
16th century

Mancini Federica

Lorenzo Costa is well known as a painter; however, little has been written about his drawings, an omission all the more striking in that he was a prolific draftsman. His drawing of St. Sebastian shows a mature style in which his familiarity with Filippino Lippi's work and the influence of Perugino have overcome his youthful Ferrara style.

The martyrdom of St. Sebastian

Legend tells that Sebastian was a Roman centurion, converted to Christianity, who survived the archers' use of his body as a living target only to be flagellated and beaten to death in the circus. During the Italian Renaissance, St. Sebastian was commonly depicted as a naked young man standing upright, holding the arrows that were the instruments of his first ordeal and therefore his attribute. Costa's St. Sebastian follows the usage of his time: a full-length figure, seen in a three-quarter view, turning to the left. Despite his elongated body, Sebastian is both imposing and monumental. The drapery was not included in the original composition: the outline of the naked figure is still visible under the folds. In accordance with iconographic tradition, the saint is holding two arrows in his left hand.

The dual influence of Filippino Lippi and Perugino

The Louvre drawing is generally dated to about 1500. After his initial training in Ferrara, Costa went to Bologna in 1483, where he shook off the influence of his early training and drew closer to the Florentine style, especially that of Filippino Lippi. Under the latter's influence, Costa developed an "irregular style," using crisscrossed strokes contrasted with hatching of various lengths. This irregularity can be seen in the Louvre drawing, along with Perugino's influence in the elongation of the figure; consequently, the dating of the work has been brought forward to the early 16th century.

A doubt dispelled

The drawing has generally been attributed to Lorenzo Costa, as proposed in 1950 by Philip Pouncey, who recognised a copy of a figure after Filippino Lippi (annotation on the mount). This attribution was challenged in 1989 by Griswold, who included the St. Sebastian in the corpus of Ridolfo Ghirlandaio. However, his opinion was not followed in later literature, which reasserted that the drawing was by Costa's hand, on the basis of comparison with a study for three figures known to be by the artist. These three figures can be seen in the upper part of the fresco of St. Cecilia and St. Valerian Crowned with Flowers by an Angel, a painting now in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam.


Faietti M., Un siècle de dessin à Bologne 1480-1580 : De la Renaissance à la réforme tridentine. Exposition Paris, France, Musée du Louvre, Arts Graphiques, 2001, notice 2.
Faietti M., Il Cinquecento a Bologna - Disegni dal Louvre e dipinti a confronto. Exposition à Bologne, Italie, Pinacoteca nazionale di Bologna, 2002, notice 3.
Griswold W. M., "Early Drawings by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio", in Master Drawings, volume XXVII, n 3,1989, pp.215-222.
Viatte F., L'Oeil du connaisseur : Hommage à Philip Pouncey. Exposition du Cabinet des dessins. Exposition à Paris, Musée du Louvre, Arts Graphiques, 1992, notice 2.

Technical description

  • Lorenzo Costa, called Costa the Elder (Ferrara, c. 1460-Mantua, 1535)

    St. Sebastian standing, in three quarters view, turning to the left

    C. 1500

  • Pen and brown ink on grayish-brown paper

    H. 17.4 cm; W. 7.1 cm

  • Edward Habich sale, Stuttgart, Gutenkunst, 27-28 April 1899, no. 681; gift of Walter Gay, 1938

    RF 28916

  • Prints and Drawings

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

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