St. Sebastian Thrown into the Cloaca Maxima

Object Details


St. Sebastian Thrown into the Cloaca Maxima


Lodovico Carracci (Italian, 1555 - 1619)






Oil on canvas


167 × 233 cm (65 3/4 × 91 3/4 in.)

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Although Saint Sebastian is usually depicted bound to a tree or pillar and pierced by arrows, that attempt by the Romans to take his life was unsuccessful. Ludovico Carracci chose to represent the moment after the subsequent deadly beating, when Roman soldiers dumped Sebastian's limp and lifeless body into a sewer.

Against the dark of night, brutish soldiers lift and tug the dead saint's body. Ludovico contrasted the tensile strength of their straining bodies with the slackness of the saint's limbs, head, and facial muscles as he falls into the sewer's depths. The night atmosphere is dark and thick: figures seem to emerge from the blackness. Light glints dully off helmets and armor, but the soldiers' faces are unreadable. A bright light suffuses the body of Saint Sebastian, making him the focal point of the composition.

In 1612 Cardinal Maffeo Barberini commissioned this painting from Ludovico for his family's chapel in the Church of San Andrea della Valle in Rome. The chapel commemorated the site where Saint Sebastian's body was recovered from the sewer, called the Cloaca Maxima. Barberini decided to keep the painting in his private collection, believing that an image of the recovery of Sebastian's body by Christians was more appropriate for the church.

1612 - 1644

Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, later Pope Urban VIII, 1568 - 1644 (Rome, Italy), commissioned from the artist, 1612, for the Barberini chapel in Sant'Andrea della Valle, Rome, but never installed; by inheritance to his nephew, Taddeo Barberini, 1644.

1644 - 1647

Prince Taddeo Barberini of Palestrina, 1603 - 1647 (Rome, Italy), by inheritance to his second son, Maffeo Barberini, 1647.

1647 - 1685

Prince Maffeo Barberini of Palestrina, 1632 - 1685 (Rome, Italy), by inheritance to his second son, Urbano Barberini, 1685.

1685 - still in 1686

Prince Urbano Barberini of Palestrina, 1666 - 1722 (Rome, Italy)

- possibly in 1971

Private Collection (possibly Nando Perretti) [sold, Bonham's, London, 1971.]

possibly by 1971 - 1972

Nando Perretti [Perretti sale, Sotheby's, London, July 12, 1972, lot 91, to the J. Paul Getty Museum.]

The Age of Caravaggio / Caravaggio e il suo tempo (February 5 to June 30, 1985)
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), February 5 to April 14, 1985
  • Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte, May 12 to June 30, 1985
The Age of Correggio and the Carracci: Emilian Painting of the 16th and 17th Centuries (September 10, 1986 to May 24, 1987)
  • Pinacoteca Nazionale (Bologna), September 10 to November 10, 1986
  • National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), December 19, 1986 to February 16, 1987
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), March 26 to May 24, 1987
Ludovico Carracci (January 22 to April 10, 1994)
  • Kimbell Art Museum (Fort Worth), January 22 to April 10, 1994
Captured Emotions: Baroque Painting in Bologna, 1575-1725 (December 16, 2008 to May 3, 2009) (pl. 4)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), December 16, 2008 to May 3, 2009

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Mormando, Franco. "Response to the Plague in Early Modern Italy: What the Primary Sources, Printed and Painted, Reveal." In Hope and Healing. Painting in Italy in a Time of Plague, 1500-1800, exh. cat. (Worcester: Worcester Art Museum, 2005), p. 30.

Lévy, Jean-Marc. Médecins et malades dans la peinture européenne du XVIIe siècle. 2 vols. (Paris: L'Harmattan, 2007), vol. 1, p. 58; vol. 2, pp. 28-29, fig. 11.

Lavin, Marilyn Aronberg. "Adventures in the Barberini Archives." In I Barberini e la cultura europea del seicento: atti del convegno internazionale, Palazzo Barberini alle Quattro Fontane, 7-11 dicembre 2004. Lorenza Mochi Onori, Sebastian Schütze, and Francesco Solinas, eds. (Rome: De Luca Editori d'Arte, 2007), p. 662, fig. 7.

Schaefer, Scott. "The Bolognese Baroque in Los Angeles and Southern California." In Captured Emotions: Baroque Painting in Bologna, 1575-1725, exh. cat. Andreas Henning and Scott Schaefer, eds. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008), pp. 23, 112, pl. 4.

Feigenbaum, Gail. "Nature as Teacher and Subject: The Caracci Family of Painters." In Captured Emotions: Baroque Painting in Bologna, 1575-1725, exh. cat. Andreas Henning and Scott Schaefer, eds. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008), pp. 18-19, 23, pl. 4.

Dempsey, Charles. "Painting in Bologna from the Carracci to Crespi." In Captured Emotions: Baroque Painting in Bologna, 1575-1725, exh. cat. Andreas Henning and Scott Schaefer, eds. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008), pp. 8, 23, pl. 4.

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