Mattia Preti

Born in Calabria in southern Italy, Preti spent his most formative years in Rome and Naples, absorbing artistic influences and developing an exuberant late-Baroque painting style. This drawing, made in preparation for a major altarpiece commission for the Church of Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori in Naples, is one of very few compositional studies by the artist known today. The muscular protagonist bound to a tree by his tormentors is Saint Sebastian, a Roman imperial guard condemned to death for his Christian faith. Although at first glance the saint’s body appears uninjured, a closer look reveals the arrows—faintly rendered in red chalk—piercing his torso and arms.

Mattia Preti
Italian, 1613–1699
Saint Sebastian tied to a tree, ca. 1656
Red chalk, with brush and brown wash
Richard and Mary L. Gray, promised gift to the Morgan Library & Museum
Gray Collection Trust, Art Institute of Chicago
Photography by Jamie Stukenberg, Professional Graphics Inc.