This phase of the series brings together two interpretations of one of the most recognisable symbols of human endurance and suffering – Saint Sebastian – made over 500 years apart.
The first depiction of the martyr is a small 15th century altarpiece, from the Umbrian region of Italy, in which the sorrowful saint is pictured standing contrapposto, lashed to a stake – his body filled with arrows – attended by the figure of a Bishop, probably St Augustine or St Herculanus, with God the Father looking on from the gilt lunette above. From today this idealised and typically androgynous image of the long-haired Sebastian is given a full scale sex change at the hands of Louise Bourgeois whose headless ‘Sainte Sébastienne’ is depicted as a trunk-like female torso besieged by an onslaught of arrows, arranged across the body like the diagrammatic pointers of a butcher’s chart.
Bourgeoise described her ‘Sainte Sébastienne’ as a self-portrait. Made when she was 81 it contains the undercurrent of anxiety that continued to characterise so much of her work throughout her long career. As she said; “It’s a state of being under attack, of being anxious and afraid. What does a person do when they are under siege? You better understand why you are being attacked. Is it provoked? Is it revenge? Do you fight back, or do you run for cover and retreat into the protection of your own lair? That is the big question.”
From 20 September ‘Sainte Sébastienne’ by Louise Bourgeois will be joined by the work of Rose Wylie.