Alonso Berruguete_Reinassance Sculptor - Page 80

Cloaca Maxima. Appearing in the dreams of a Roman Christian
matron, he told her where his body could be found and was buried
in the catacombs. The cult of this military saint, like those of Saint
Martin and Saint Maurice, was widespread during the Middle Ages
as it was believed that he could stop the plague. During the Italian
Renaissance Saint Sebastian was depicted often, perhaps as a pretext
for representing the nude male: being young, covered only by a loin
cloth with arrows driven into his body, and tied to a column or tree,
the saint presented an opportunity to make anatomical studies of
great beauty. These representations – along with those of Adam and
Eve and penitent saints such as Mary Magdalen and Saint Jerome –
were the only nudes permitted in religious works.1
This sculpture of Saint Sebastian, acquired in 2011 and comprehensively
restored by a private European foundation,2 is directly related to one
of the best-know and exceptional works by Alonso Berruguete, the
Saint Sebastian from the retable of the high altar of San Benito el Real
in Valladolid, now in Museo Nacional de Escultura in the same city
(fig. 65). Created between 1526 and 1532, this retable dedicated to
Saint Benedict was, as discussed elsewhere in this volume, one of
Berruguete’s masterpieces. The ensemble was made up of paintings,
reliefs and sculpture with scenes of the lives of Christ and Saint
Benedict. The sculpture of Saint Sebastian occupied one of the niches
of the second vertical section, facing the figure of Saint Christopher.
Its technical qualities, style and iconography ensure that the
sculpture studied here can be attributed without any doubt to Alonso
Berruguete. A comparative study of the two figures – the one from
the retable of San Benito in Valladolid and this one reveals a very
similar model with almost identical physiognomies, anatomical
studies, elongated proportions and polychromy. There are only
slight variations in their postures. The most significant difference
is in the position of the arms which, in the Valladolid model, are
raised behind the head while, in the version studied here only the left
arm is raised – and more out-stretched – with the right arm falling
alongside the body. The arrangement of the latter twists the torso to
the right and the left leg further forward, but with the knee much less
bent. Because of this, the feet are close together, resting on the base
which, as in the Valladolid version, is a tree trunk against which the
entire body leans. Another important difference is that the Valladolid
model is seated lightly on the trunk, whereas the figure studied
Fig. 65. Alonso Berruguete, Saint Sebastian, Retable
here is fully on its feet with its back leaning against it. The cloth
on the main altar of San Benito el Real (Valladolid),
with which both saints are covered is polychromed in very similar
Museo Nacional de Escultura, Valladolid.
manner, but the cloth in Valladolid is shorter.3


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