Saint Sébastien

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This wooden statue by Zadkine represents the body of a man. He is stretched out with a slight rotating movement from the ankles up to the raised left arm which has been cut off. The head is bent and hangs down onto the right shoulder. Zadkine's statue follows the natural form of the tree trunk. Only very little material was removed to create 'Saint Sébastien'. Zadkine used the branches at the top of the tree trunk to distinguish the head and the arm. The statue does not have any feet, and in addition to the left arm, Saint Sébastien's head has also been cut flat. The ribs and elbow of the right arm are represented by sharp grooves. The other lines of the statue are more flowing. The traces of the gouging process are clearly visible on the skin of the statue.

When the Russian Ossip Zadkine arrived in Paris in 1909, Cubism was in full swing there. The painters Braque and Picasso analysed elements from reality in rather geometric faceted forms which they arranged on the canvas in a new way. This iconography was translated into three-dimensional sculptures by Lipchitz, amongst others. Zadkine was also influenced by Cubism. However, he was not interested so much in its formal iconography as in the free way in which visual motifs were used. Zadkine’s work was almost always based on the human figure. He did not consider that it was necessary to represent this in a way that was anatomically correct. For him the expressive force of the image was much more important. In this respect, Zadkine said: “if something has to be copied in art, it is the spirit, never the letter of the original.”

'Saint Sébastien' is more traditional than a number of Zadkine’s older statues in terms of form. The figure is slightly elongated and stylized and Zadkine felt free to cut off the statue at the top and bottom, but as regards their form and position, the parts of the body were represented in a way that is anatomically correct. The bent head with the closed eyes and the grooves of the ribs give the statue the tragedy and vulnerability which are suitable for the martyr Saint Sebastian. This martyr is usually represented standing against a tree trunk with arrows piercing his body, but in Zadkine’s statue the tree and the figure are one.

Queer perspective

Ossip Zadkin carves in wood the famous martyr St Sebastian, who was both a military man and a pious Christian. While the emperor Diocletian was persecuting early Christians, Sebastian spread the word of God. It was for this reason that the emperor ordered his execution, which in turn led to him being declared a martyr. This story is the traditional and normative one you may already be familiar with.

%However, during the Renaissance period, St Sebastian began to draw homoerotic interest. He is young and hairless, and his feminine features contrast with the musculature of his body. Is certain ways, he is becoming queer! Did you know that in the 18th century, St Sebastian icons were already circulating among gay men? Thanks to reappropriation in art and literature, he has been acknowledged as a gay symbol. What about you? Will you allow yourself to enjoy a feeling of pleasure by looking at St Sebastian?

%>Tags: normative, androgynous, queer, gay

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