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Saint Sebastian: An Enduring Homoerotic Icon

Figure 1. Andrea Mantegna, Saint Sebastian, 1480.

Part One: Saint Sebastian in the Renaissance

Of the plague’s symptoms, a contemporary chronicler called Le Baker wrote that victims were ‘afflicted by swellings which appeared suddenly in various parts of the body … Others had small black blisters scattered over the whole body.’ The swellings were buboes found in the groin, armpits and neck, from which bubonic plague gets its name. Severe headache, violent chest pains, swelling of the tongue, and subcutaneous haemorrhages were other outstanding symptoms. The sufferer often became distracted and staggered about, and if the attack was fatal would normally die within three days.1 ‘SANCTE SEBASTIANE INTERCEDE PRO DEVOTO POPULO TUO’2

A Plague on All Your Houses

The Wordsworth Encyclopedia of Plague & Pestilence, Editor, George C. Kohn, Wordsworth, 1998, p.252 ‘Saint Sebastian intercede for your devoted people’ - inscribed on Benozzo Gozzoli’s fresco painting, Saint Sebastian protecting the people of San Gimignano (1464), S. Agostino, San Gimingnano. (fig. 3)

tells us that Diocletian ‘commanded him to be led to the field and there to be bounden to a stake for to be shot at. in any case. Whereupon. as swift and random as deadly arrows. Saint Sebastian was invoked against the bubonic plague. 4 3 . in the church of St Peter. as these remains were presented to the church in 1818 by a painter. Jacopo da Voragine tells us that ‘during the reign of King Gumbert3 all Italy was stricken by a plague so virulent that there was hardly anyone left to bury the dead. Trans. a mere couple of days later. he was nursed by Irene. In The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints. the basilica San Sebastiano fuori le mura in Rome. which.8 Miraculously he recovered and. Croatia. as a final insult. still with some dried fleshy material attached. for instance. the wife of Castulus. 8 Castulus was the chamberlain or valet of Diocletian.From the seventh-century. 1995. It was believed that the disease travelled through the air. Gumbert (sometimes spelt Gumpert) was a mere prince of Lombardia. were rarely distinguished by the common people. ‘as full of arrows as a porcupine is full of pricks’. holds one of the arrows that penetrated his body as well as part of the column to which he was bound. 7 De Voragine. Given his legend.’4 It was divinely revealed that the plague would never cease until an altar was erected to Saint Sebastian in Pavia. 6 Diocletian was Roman Emperor 284 AD – 305 AD. boasts part of Sebastian’s spine. but he was brought up in Milan by his Milanese parents.5 Sebastian was born at Gallia Narbonensis. the body was thrown into the Cloaca Maxima. in Vodnjan. Miraculously. which makes no sense. written around 1260.100. where he harangued Diocletian about his cruel treatment of Christians. he was never a king. it was natural to nominate him an agent of intercession. the enraged emperor ordered that Sebastian be clubbed to death. the passage is written. Rome’s main sewer. The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints Volume 1. turned up at the imperial palace in Rome. but also for epilepsy and other diseases too. Jacobus De Voragine. named Grezel. given the continent on which the action takes place. the plague abated and this signalled the setting up of shrines and even churches devoted to the saint across Italy and beyond. p. he was elevated to sainthood after being tortured and buried alive in a sandpit on the Via Labicana. 5 However. in what is now Provence. When his Christianity could no longer be ignored. He became a soldier in the Roman army in Rome around 283 and was later made a captain in the praetorian guards by Emperor Diocletian6. and the church of St Benedict. his entire pelvis and his right hip bone. and this plague raged most of all in Rome and Pavia. ‘Urchin’ is the folk-name sometimes given to the hedgehog. Also a Christian. And the archers shot at him till he was as full of arrows as an urchin is full of pricks’. William Granger Ryan. their provenance has to be questioned.7 Left for dead. ignominious end would preclude In fact. De Voragine. People began to appeal to Sebastian during each outbreak of plague. in the vain hope that such a filthy. He shared the position with Maximian from 286 AD. in an unintentionally humorous passage. along with several mummies and the remains of 250 other saints. There are several churches that still house relics purported to be of Sebastian. This directive was duly followed and an altar was raised there. Princeton University. In some American translations.

and Architects . one which will allow future artists to adapt his meaning to fit any number of agendas. within churches and at altars. art historian and critic (1511 – 1574). Thames and Hudson. it is no longer a signifier. Sebastian is the patron saint of both infantrymen and archers. Apart from images of Christ. Lives of the Most Excellent Painters. The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response. eroticised flesh. in the uneasy connection between the sacred and the profane. too. this cannot be so. in the chapter ‘Vasari and the Pangs of St Sebastian’. there were few other opportunities for artists. we are also capable of being roused by it’ [my italics]. In 1550 he published. Sebastian was. humanness. Moreover. p. In The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response. ‘once the body is perceived as real and living. to depict semi-nude male figures. so did Sebastian mutate to fit the current preoccupations of any given period: in medieval times he appeared simply as an intercessor 9 David Freedberg. we respond to it accordingly. as if it were real. Only then could they begin to imagine the possibility of his (and by association their own) eventual transubstantiation. He is also a saint. say. ‘having sinned [peccato] at the very sight of the allure and suggestive realism given to the figure by Fra Bartolommeo. Female viewers were coming to the confessional. a practicing Dominican friar.12 In Memoirs of a Tourist. p.Sebastian’s elevation to martyr status.99 12 .’10 [W]hen the Florentine painter Fra Bartolommeo (1472-1517) created an image of St Sebastian to prove that he. Reaktion Books. Once we have invested an image with life. p. whether they were samesex attracted or not. Sebastian maintains an enduring homoerotic appeal. could master the nude figure as well as any artist. Pain and Fortitude. first and foremost a man and it was important for viewers of his image. Sculptors. but the living signified itself. as Vasari11 puts it. Ironically. Chicago University Press. even sexual. Stendhal writes that women fainted in front of Roman altarpieces which depicted the saint.325 10 Robert Mills. of course.9 This was as true of contemporary responses to images of Sebastian as it was of other saints and of Christ himself. to be reminded of that fact. Suspended Animation: Pain. Enduring Creation: Art. And just as images of Christ varied over time. in painting or sculpture. in all his base. which was dedicated to Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici. David Freedberg speaks of the viewer’s need to believe that human images.166 11 Giorgio Vasari was an artist. 2005. Pleasure and Punishment in Medieval Culture. as there were no Sebastians on Roman altars. And it is at this point. and his image needed to show this. Viewers needed to personally identify with the humanity of Sebastian (and Christ). However. Nigel Spivey. ‘Images depicting the martyrdom of St Sebastian are especially striking in … transforming the saint explicitly into exhibited. More than any other Christian image. the result had to be removed from the church where it was first exposed. that he achieves his perennial iconic status. (and this is also particularly the case in photography) are reality. the humanity of these figures – pictured suspended between earth and heaven – is magnified by contrast to its impending transcendence.

In the central panel of Giovanni del Biondi’s altarpiece. Two waves of bubonic plague later. He has yet to assume full symbolic iconography. ‘How might queer subjects have deployed potentially homoerotic Christian imagery to their own perversely libidinous ends?’15 As I will show later in this chapter. in the nineteenth century he was co-opted as an androgynous decadent and since the twentieth century. his body is made porous and ‘feminised’ by the experience. he has become a gay emblem which speaks of homosexual desire while simultaneously demonstrating the agony of the closet. showing the martyrdom of Mills. sometimes by one arm. He has a halo and holds a laurel wreath. for instance.193 Ibid. depending on the artist’s enthusiasm. 2002. eds.163 14 13 . It was a problem that was recognised and commented on by the clergy. He is merely one of twenty-six other saints depicted. each interchangeably identical with the other. between sacred and profane imagery. advocates ‘interpretive encounters that endeavour to challenge the heteronormative assumptions of certain modes of historical enquiry. The earliest representation of Sebastian is a mosaic in the Byzantine style in the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo. he mostly appears as an older.3). Robert Mills. ‘To what extent does Christian representation self-consciously depend on a homoerotic subtext?’…but. Women and Saints in Late Medieval Europe.’13 ‘Visual images of the tortured body of Christ and the saints. Samantha J.2). erotic connections were frequently made.against plague. in the minds of the general populace. which is closer to the actual historical figure (fig. Suspended Animation.E Riches and Sarah Salih. which may number from just a couple to many dozen. Recent queer theory has challenged heteronormative assumptions regarding the reading of historic imagery. p. in the Renaissance he transformed into a depilated youth of Apollonian beauty.’14 He goes on to propose that we: ask not. Routledge. writing about homoerotic imagery in art from the Middle Ages. gazing heavenward as his flesh is pierced by arrows. bearded man. indicating his victory over (his first) death. There are no arrows or archers to indicate the nature of his martyrdom. Ravenna. may produce their own queer possibilities in certain situations. From the Renaissance on. Before 1400. Sebastian is most often depicted tied to a tree. His receptivity to this penetration also has obvious associations with male homosexuality. p. and his representation begins to change. for instance. p. dated between 527 and 565 (fig.193 15 Robert Mills in Gender and Holiness: Men.

1464-1465. Benozzo Gozzoli. Saint Sebastian. Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo.Figure 2. Italy. San Gimignano. Figure 3. 527-565. Ravenna. Italy. . Saint Sebastian. Absidal Chapel.

Sebastian and scenes from his life (fig. he conforms to Voragine’s hedgehog description. in the chapel of the Pucci family and the altar-piece was the Pollaiuolo brothers’ Martyrdom of St Sebastian. so familiar from paintings of the crucifixion. suspended on a column of wood. Giovanni del Biondi.16 The triangular arrangement of the action leads the eye to its apex. where we see the resigned face of the (now) young saint. the denuded nature of which intensifies the effect of near-nakedness of the youth. the reliquary tabernacle of which boasted a fragment of Sebastian’s head. a condition which is accentuated by the elevated position of the body. The saint’s preserved arm was kept here. In the middle of the right hand panel. both hiding and drawing 16 Behind the church was the Compagnia di San Sebastiano. the cult of Saint Sebastian centred on the church of SS Annunziata. he is depicted as Christ-like. 4). A knout of gauzy material bunches over his genitals. In Florence. we see him being carried out of the same pit. and at the bottom of this panel. he is beaten to death with clubs and tossed into the sewer. He stands on a truncated tree. The Martyrdom of St Sebastian and Scenes from His Life. miraculously intact and complete with halo. 1370. .Figure 4. In case we should be in any doubt about his sainthood.

6). its curling ends echoing his ringlets. the burly soldiers reload and aim their weapons to take pot shots at their former comrade-in-arms. or at least youngest-looking Sebastians (fig. Tethered loosely by the wrists to a tree. forming a heavy baseline to the triangle. suggesting that this is just a lark to be undertaken in their ‘down time’. The Martyrdom of St Sebastian. far too young to tally with the historical figure. the saint appears to be no older than his mid-teens. 1475. which would enable him a good degree of wriggling space. The boy’s orange wrap is about to be blown free. Two arrows have already struck him. one is lodged in his ribs and one has gone through his right thigh. There is an informality about them. Antonio del Pollaiuolo and Piero del Pollaiuolo. We see in Francesco da Cotignola’s work from 1513 one of the youngest. none is in uniform (indeed.Figure 5. attention to them. the boy gazes disconsolately down . Unusually for images of Sebastian. and there is an irregularity about their method. Crowded into the foreground. who was captain of the praetorian guards. one is as near-naked as their target). It is the casual nature of their approach which is so shocking.

1513 Pinacoteca Nazionale. Ferrara. One of the reasons for the saint’s increasingly youthful depiction from 1450 onwards was to correspond to people’s physical need to strengthen. Saint Sebastian would have spiritually embraced their hearts and kept their bodies alive. Piero Boccardo and Xavier F.24 .Figure 6. Saint Sebastian. their vital pneuma threatened by the plague. Italy at the ground. once becoming real in the faithful’s mind. Furthermore. Dulwich Picture Gallery. Ideally.’ in the catalogue for The Agony and the Ecstasy: Guido Reni’s Saint Sebastians.17 17 Karim Ressouni-Demigneaux. rather that heavenwards. London. and focus on the martyr’s physical beauty which incarnated holiness in the world of painting and imagination. in their imagination. Francesco da Cotignola (known as Francesco Zaganelli). and this accentuates his human-ness. ‘The “Imaginary” Life of Saint Sebastian. Salomon. eds. the artists found various expedients to captivate the viewers’ gaze on the picture. 2008. p.

suddenly they shall be wounded.nonchalantly Figure 7. . in a picture designed to doubly ensure that the faithful were spared. 1510-1515. arbitrary casting down of the disease. bound to a hacked tree. as at Deuteronomy 32:23. physical horrors of the plague collide with the symbol of its random attack.18 Sebastian. a more likely reason for Anthony’s inclusion is the fact that it was once believed that the skin condition erysipelas. Here. as this is a painting to ward off disease. with his trademark boar at heel. Saint Sebastian and Saint Roch by the Maestro di Tavernelle (fig.In the painting. and Saint Roch . lifts his tunic and casually points to a bubo in his groin. Saint Anthony. 7) we are presented a three-in-one intercession against the plague. “I will spend mine arrows upon them.who actually contracted the plague and recovered .” could be cured with pig lard. But. The association of arrows with divinely sent disease is ancient. is studded with arrows.” or at Psalm 64:7.” The celestially afflicted Job laments. Saint Anthony. known as "St.” or Psalm 7:12. the very real. Anthony's fire. Anthony indicates the saint’s triumph over gluttony. “he hath bent his bow and made it ready. as expected. Saint Anthony appears on the left. Saint Sebastian and Saint Roch. The Old Testament repeatedly mentions arrows as metaphors for God’s punishments. “For the arrows of the 18 The pig of St. “But God shall shoot at them with an arrow. Maestro di Tavarnelle. Sixteenth-century viewers of this painting would have been well aware that the arrows symbolised God’s indiscriminate.

161 159 21 . the curve of his left knee can be discerned just as it leaves the bottom right corner of the picture. In an article about the painting. That there are only two arrows in this painting reinforces the homoerotic intent. ‘A St Sebastian by Bronzino’. this makes more sense. p. a Saint Mark from around the same period. While at Rome in 590 Honorius of Autun wrote of “arrows falling from Heaven. his foreshortened right knee appears directly under his open right hand. as did Christian writers during the First Pandemic. This reading now places the arrow. Classical authors spoke of pestilence as arrows. 21 Cox-Rearick speaks about the figure leaning forward and resting his left arm upon a ledge. having been penetrated while also offering the promise of penetrating. 19 20 Joseph Byrne. his torso slightly turning towards his right to engage the unseen other. a shift in representations of Sebastian begins to occur. however. it is clear that in fact Sebastian is resting his left elbow upon his left leg. Greenwood. not resting along a ledge. 1008. 8). Here. 94 Janet Cox-Rearick. there are no archers and no halo.almighty are within me. moreover. In about 1525.20 Sebastian’s puppy dog eyes are not directed to heaven. It is likely to have been painted as a private commission. but suggestively. which seems much more appropriate for such an intentionally erotic image.” (6:4) and “his archers compass me round about” (16:13). The arrows. Bronzino painted an unconventional Saint Sebastian with unmistakable homoerotic appeal (fig.”19 Prolepsis Made Visible From this point. but apparently not in Florence. are not abstract symbols of his ordeal…but erotic emblems: one has penetrated his body. offstage. the other is casually. Vol. This gives the image an even more erotic flavour. so provocatively fondled in Cox-Rearick’s description. 129. mentioned previously. 1987. Visually. Janet Cox-Rearick states: Bronzino’s St Sebastian belongs to a type of devotional painting of the half-length saint (draped or nude) holding an arrow (and sometimes also the martyr’s palm) which appears in the later quattrocento in northern and central Italian painting. The Burlington Magazine. Ibid p. on the one hand. March. The young man is sensuously draped in pink material. homoerotic. but at an unseen other. religious. Sebastian would then be seated square to the viewer. No. held against the pink drapery. in the manner of another painting by Bronzino. On closer inspection. p. and on the other. the young man presents an image of homosexual versatility. and this would have enabled Bronzino to dispense with the usual requirements of devotional painting. but in front of the young man’s crotch. the saint’s index finger curved around and almost touching the arrowhead…These characteristics…suggest that (the painting) may have been intended to have an ambiguous meaning – an image. as there is no record of its being connected to a church. The Black Death.

. Bronzino. St Sebastian. 1525-1528.Figure 8.

One of these. No. In the final version this was stripped completely away. Medici Portraits (Autumn. Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin. the pink wrap is identical. The picture frankly conveys his prowess as a lover. which played up the eroticism: he changed the key box from a spade-shape into the vaginal shape. Originally. the duke was more chastely draped with material. There have been many hundreds of Sebastians painted over the centuries. it was discovered that Bronzino had made several key modifications. this time of Cosimo I de’ Medici (fig. Vol. when the painting was cleaned. probably at the request of the sitter. the keybox of which is vaginal. is unusual for its personalisation. In the mid 1980s. and in the way he grasps the bow.22 Perugino painted eleven Sebastians. 348. 81. Bronzino. 1985) pp. now housed at The Hermitage (fig. 28 – 32 . in the suggestive way he grips the fret of the lira da braccio. Portrait of Cosimo I de’ Medici as Orpheus. Bronzino was to paint another erotic male portrait. The tone and meaning of the painting changed from heroic to erotic. but the blushing grand duke has almost completely slipped out of it. Ten years later. 1538-1540. but this small picture by 22 Mark Tucker. which juts from between his legs and points up towards that emblem. lowered Cosimo’s leg and dropped the bow to its present phallic position and brought the instrument closer to his body. But here the message is resolutely heterosexual. ‘Discoveries Made during the Treatment of Bronzino's "Cosimo I de' Medici as Orpheus"’. 10). 9) in the role of Orpheus.Figure 9.

On the arrow shaft. It is impossible to say whether the image was made as a study for the larger picture. The painting is a smaller. which Perugino painted around the same time. we see Sebastian wistfully. and Perugino’s cropping of the figure. or was made after the fact. now in the Louvre. the viewer is forced into an intimate. In this smaller image. Because of this. The problem for Renaissance painters. circuitous journey around the image. . ‘Petrus Perusinus Pinxit’ (‘painted by Pietro Perugino’). The promise of heavenly bliss hinged upon transcending the gamut of human frailties. therefore. c. almost casually. it was vitally important that the viewer saw him. first and foremost as a man. With all of the images of Sebastian. Perugino is perhaps one of the most intimate. Perugino. a single arrow jutting from his neck. Saint Sebastian. pared down version of a full-figure Sebastian. There is nothing else present in the picture to indicate the special significance of the saint. Perugino has signed the painting in Latin.Figure 10.1495. as in images of Christ. and nothing to anchor our attention. gazing heavenward. a journey that continuously takes in each of Sebastian’s nipples and his upturned left eye at the end of each triangulate pass. including base sexuality. This demanded an acknowledgement that he had a sexuality to transcend in the first place.

was how to refer to this aspect of real life. Hans Schaufelein. Man of Sorrows. Crucifixion.264 24 Further reading on images of Christ’s erection in Renaissance paintings can be found in the chapter. In such naturalistic images as these.325 . He is a saint but he is a man. The revelation of the risen Christ’s nakedness – like offstage violence in classical theatre – is dramatised with no exposure at all. then how exhibit the wholeness of the glorified body without offending either its truth or our guilt-edged community standards? To which [artists] reply: by prolepsis made visible. pp 298 . Figure 12.1520. University of Chicago Press. c. The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion. or by following the contours of the holy erection. 1515. ‘The Ibiquity of the Erection Motif’ in Steinberg. it cannot be claimed that the vagaries of material alone are responsible for the phallic protuberances depicted. p. to the living who abide in concupiscence. 24 Figure 11.23 This was done either by presenting a mightily exaggerated billow of material at the crotch. The same is no less true of Sebastian. 11 and 12). Leo Steinberg states the following: If the Resurrection restores man’s body to its aboriginal innocence. Ludwig Krug. and if. Writing specifically about images of Christ. The enduring erotic nature of his image in works of art is 23 Leo Steinberg. that member may not be exposed without inciting “the lust of the eyes”. as the following images will show. not excluding its onceshameful member. In each case the ‘once-shameful member’ is revealed by being ‘hidden’. as in the following two images (figs.

Figure 13. The curve of the arched window behind him is taken up by the fall of a green shroud. Dosso Dossi. and slips between his clenched thighs. which we follow from its first appearance just behind his head. 14) we see a more obvious reference to Sebastian’s physical sexuality. to reappear. where it covers his genitals. and to the varying degrees that artists met this challenge. which is just as frank as the .due to efforts to obfuscate. Saint Sebastian. 1500s. In Jacopo de’ Barbari’s engraving from the same period (fig. Because of the apple tree and the serpentine shroud. 13) the martyr has been tethered by his wrists to what appears to be an apple tree. The discarded armour in the bottom left of the picture indicates Sebastian’s erstwhile profession and emphasises his vulnerable nakedness. falling in a train behind him to the ground. the picture has subliminal Adamic implications which powerfully reinforce the notion of Sebastian’s humanity and his sexuality. It forms a spiral as it sweeps round to his groin. in a courtyard garden. In the Sebastian by Dosso Dossi (Giovanni di Niccolò de Luteri) (fig.

is also reminiscent of pubic hair. There are several other factors which I believe also make it probable that the sexuality of the saint is unmistakably implied. while a symbol of spiritual renewal. He looks like a Bondi surfer about to catch some morning waves. Around his waist he wears a loincloth. The cropped tree is now just a trunk. Sebastian. As the cloth wraps around his waist. The fact that he has not yet been ‘feminised’ by any . like a beach towel. in front. St. This effect is heightened by the sprig of new growth at its base which. points towards the viewer. engraving early 1500s beneath the loincloth. Jacopo de’ Barbari. his arms tethered above his head. reinforcing the idea of Sebastian-as-phallus. the idea of phallic erection is powerfully suggested. is certainly turgid enough to effect this ‘pinning’. if not erect and pointing straight towards the viewer. There is absolutely nothing else it can be but his penis which. it curls about something unseen beneath. Light rakes across his torso like a promise of heaven to come. and yet something ‘pegs’ it in place. Because of the cropping of both the youth and the tree. Sebastian’s straining torso reiterates the straining trunk/erection while his actual tumescence. We see the young blonde saint stretched against a tree trunk. If we examine this material more closely we can clearly see that it has begun to slip off his loins. Figure 14.sexual images of Christ already discussed. which prevents it from sliding completely off. its veins and ridges make it resemble an erect penis.

second penis. this is an image about masculine carnality. The decorative red end of the material reinforces this reference. we again see such an eroticisation of the saint due to this (non)focus on his genitalia. but imitates a well-proportioned member. Saint Sebastian. the end of the loincloth material not merely suggests.penetrating arrows emphasises the active masculine role of the saint in this picture. Madonna and Child with Saints (fig 17). now housed in the Nationalmuseum. and once again . In the painting. with the position of the two arrows. This effect is more startling. in the Louvre painting (fig 16). In the following three full-length paintings of Sebastian that Perugino painted in the 1490s. Perugino. at the waist. in the place of a tapered. Perugino fashions the material of the loincloth so that it suggests or mimics the saint’s penis. In the final of these three paintings. 1494. this is a twofold suggestion. completes a triangle of elements which jut down or out from the saint’s body. Perugino repeats Sebastian’s pose of the previous painting. Saint Sebastian. however. Perugino. the rest of the material then narrowly hangs down between his legs. In each of these pictures. Figure 15. for here. The end of the loose blue loincloth is draped over and back. fifteenth-century. and. Stockholm (fig 15). so that Perugino can use a loop of it to protrude out from Sebastian’s body. in the position of his penis. Figure 16.

they are almost invisible at first glance. must have felt that he had crossed the line and that the hair would have made the symbolic dangling cloth a too literal suggestion of carnality. and it was painted it out. The painter has given the saint a roseate blush over his hairless pubic region. A small trail of blood inches towards his groin and a second runnel of blood races down the shaft of the arrow. as though they are a gift to be unwrapped. Once again. Perugino. 1490s. in the placement and the symbolic meaning attached to the arrow. The artist accurately copied the position of Sebastian and the colour of the loincloth from the original painting. or a moral watchdog from the church. Recent restoration of the painting revealed that Perugino originally painted a suggestion of pubic hair just above the phallic material. two drops have been .presents the dangling phantom penis. This painting was re-imagined by a follower of Perugino (fig 18) in around 1500. so that nothing interrupts the otherwise flawless beauty of the saint’s body. the arrows have been kept to an absolute minimum. At some point. Madonna and Child with Saint John and Saint Sebastian. Figure 17. which is buried. In this painting. the figure is cropped at mid-thigh and the decorative loincloth is now little more than a tantalising ribbon crossed over the genitals. but introduced a significant new element. in his lower abdomen. indeed. which also spreads up to the site of an arrow. he. midshaft.

The arrow is a visual counterpoint to the direction of the saint’s gaze. Saint Sebastian.1500. its very close proximity to the boy’s penis reinforces the homoerotic Figure 18.caught. . just at the moment they fall from the wood. Follower of Perugino. As this is the only motion in an otherwise static painting. The lone arrow is significant. and their direction can be followed back to their intersection over the youth’s heart. c. in trompe l'oeil clarity. both elements suggest a way out of the picture plane. expectantly waiting for the eventual fall of the drops. our attention is constantly drawn back to the youth’s crotch.

And far from feeling shame. glorifie par Le Sodoma. he also kept a menagerie. Vasari says that Sodoma was ‘licentious’ and ‘dishonourable’ and that he ‘always had beardless youths and boys about him. and besides the animals above named. Chapter 2. Reau. Reau points to Il Sodoma’s particular.message. Michael Rocke writes: In 1515 the winner of the horse race. Iconographie de I'Art Chritien. which he had so effectively taught to speak that Cox-Rearick. who in turn stirred up a violent mob against Sodoma and his horse. it juts from the body as a ‘stand-in’ penis. and other animals of similar kind. It seems that the homosexual codification of the saint was generally well understood. and Architects.230-231 26 25 . Vol 3. for the feast of the Baptist was a horse owned by the flamboyant Sienese painter Giovanbattista Bazzi. Paris. jackdaws.25 Invariably. he had a raven. Sculptors. is well-known. of whom he was inordinately fond’. Barbary race-horses. 27 It was not only horses that interested Sodoma. which surfaces in the characters of Viola and Julia disguised as 'Sebastians' in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. nefarious influence: ‘II ne reste plus que le patronage comprometant et inavouable des sodomites ou homosexuels. p. during the 1500s. turtle-doves. or palio. Vasari tells us that the artist had: a fancy for keeping all sorts of strange animals in his house. even as it penetrates that body. especially the depiction of the actual event of his near-martyrdom from the emperor's arrows. In his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters. 161 L. a situation that was lamented by Louis Reau in his Iconographie de I'Art Chritien. squirrels. Steinberg’s ‘prolepsis made visible’. There was also a Renaissance literary tradition of Sebastian as a code name for a homosexual. cata-mountains. even by the late 1400s: The attraction for homosexuals of the nude Sebastian-Apollo type invented in the Renaissance.1190 27 Michael Rocke. seduits par sa nudite d'ephebe apollonien. again.26 Il Sodoma (Giovanni Antonio Bazzi) was an attention-seeking painter who seems to have delighted in causing controversy. As with Bronzino’s homoerotic Sebastian. known as Sodoma for his erotic interest in young males. He seems to have adopted the ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ approach. with all the attractive physical attributions of that state. Oxford University Press. Elba ponies. 1996 p. p. In Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence. apes. which earned him the nickname ‘Sodoma’. but Sodoma gleefully adopted the sobriquet. Following custom. which stuck for all time. bantams. . he gained a scandalous reputation in his lifetime as a sodomite. In all likelihood. Sebastian was portrayed as a desirable youth. . he wrote verses about it and sang them to a lute’s accompaniment. the arrow suggests homosexual versatility. 1958. boys and youths trooped through the city shouting the victor’s name: “Sodoma! Sodoma!” Vasari noted that the cries of “such a filthy name” scandalised certain “old notables” (vecchi uomini da bene). badgers. Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence. whatever he could get into his hands in short . the name began as a casual joke. after the race.

parakeets. an Irish deerhound called Wolf. (called Il Sodoma). in September 1869. he included a full-length self portrait. two or more armadillos. Canberra. rabbits. when he painted a fresco about the life of Saint Benedict on the walls of the Abbey at Monte Oliveto Maggiore. Dante Gabriel Rossetti. a Pomeranian puppy called Punch. In a lecture given at the National Library of Australia. We know the neighbours were tolerant up to a point but Thomas Carlyle. led the monks of Monte Oliveto to call him Il Mattaccio (the maniac). playing the strangest tricks… [T]he dwelling of this man seemed like the very ark of Noah.28 Figure 19. indeed. He insisted that the animals shared his lodgings in any town in which he happened to be working on a commission. There was a Canadian marmot or woodchuck. with his pet badgers gazing lovingly up at him. .this creature counterfeited [his] the voice exactly in…replying to any one who knocked at the door…The other animals also were so tame that they were constantly assembled about his person. 16 April. Giovanni Antonio Bazzi. entitled ‘Rossetti's Wombat: A Pre-Raphaelite Obsession in Victorian England’. a Japanese salamander and two laughing jackasses. he was similar to the Pre-Raphaelite painter. which 28 In this. and came round all who approached him. a long-awaited wombat’. His Sebastian (fig. This. was driven mad by the noise. 1525. At length there was a small Brahmin bull that had to go when it chased Rossetti around the garden. There were owls. dormice and a raccoon that hibernated in a chest of drawers. There were peacocks. Saint Sebastian. and kangaroos and wallabies. Rossetti began to fill the garden with exotic birds and animals. and. Angus Trumble tells us that ‘as soon as he arrived [at his house at 19 Cheyne Walk. including a barn owl called Jessie. for one. together with his outrageous clothes. Chelsea].19). 2003. while he was in the house. about which we know frustratingly little.

regularly engaged in male-to-male sexual contact since it was such a pervasive part of the drinking. for instance. But some men did have a lifelong preference for sex with other males. These are the soldiers returning to the barracks. N. 1989. Duberman. M. in Germany. is made the more effective for placing the solid. eds. 29 James Saslow.’ in Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past. he is no longer Voragine’s hedgehog. and one is lodged in his ribs. writing about the picture states that Sebastian: writhes in ostensibly religious ecstasy open to multiple personalized interpretations.B.29 ‘To the Fire! They are all Sodomites!’ During this period. was (perhaps unconsciously) presenting more than simply the image of an ancient saint. Chauncey. and Artistic Expression. a couple of bolts are embedded in the limbs of the tree and. M. but does little to support the ‘miraculous’ side of the story. which suggests that Sodoma. The reasons for the extraordinarily high instances of sodomy in the city may have been due to the late average age for men to marry. pp. as we would recognise it today. one through the neck. who must surely have been the most incompetent executioners in history. Vicinus and G. gambling and open sexuality of the single-male culture. as we have seen. whom we would never consider homosexual. the other through his left thigh. Identity. New American Library. for they have done a half-hearted job by anyone’s standards. 28-9 . and a large proportion never took a wife. Jr. This lack of enthusiasm on the part of the soldiers would certainly explain why Sebastian recovered from his wounds. The image evinces an hysteria unprecedented in previous images of Sebastian. Among other social consequences. was publicly identified (even vilified) as a sodomite. the word ‘florenzen’ became slang for male-to-male sexual congress. Identity and Artistic Expression. …Florentine men normally put off marriage until the average age of thirty or thirty-one. In his essay. apart from lending a strange naturalism to the otherwise artificial scene. and they were not involved in anything like a modern gay subculture.Y.is a triumph of preternatural hallucination. pp. 90-105 30 Rocke.30 The vast majority of these men were not ‘homosexual’ in the modern sense of the word. ‘Homosexuality in the Renaissance: Behaviour. who. only five arrows have been loosed and only three of these pierce Sebastian’s body. serve to direct the eye to the winged angel hovering overhead. while a sodomite was known as a Florenzer. Many men. complete with non-descript ‘extras’ in the distance..’ James Saslow. from the epitome of sado-masochism to the artist’s comment on his own public ‘martyrdom’. It is perhaps the first (and certainly one of the very few) paintings of the saint wherein misfired arrows are depicted. life-like figure in front of a somewhat artificial ‘backdrop’ scene. Florence had a notorious reputation throughout Europe. the abundance of virile and not-so-young bachelors denied legitimate sexual outlets tended to foster an environment in which unauthorised sexual activity of all sorts flourished. ‘Homosexuality in the Renaissance: Behaviour.

that was usually their primary sexual outlet. probably composed between 1407 and 1412 by Stephano Finiguerri. where people could lodge anonymous accusations of sodomy. 82. buggerare (to bugger). the Office of the Night was established in Florence. Antonio Beccadelli’s Hermaphroditus (1425) celebrated pleasure for the passive partner. 2007. suggesting that their actions were broadly public. carried out the most extensive and systematic persecution of homosexual activity in any pre-modern city. usare or adoperare (to use). sometimes developing relationships lasting two. cagna (bitch) and bardassuola or bardassa (rentboy. p. During the seventy-year tenure from 1432 to 1502.5 percent were 19 or older. three or even four years. Yet in doing so the courts also brought to light a thriving and multifaceted sexual culture that was solidly integrated into the broader male world of Florence. fottere (to fuck). Cambridge University Press. 1630). Many of these sexual relationships were tolerated and even encouraged by parents who understood that they could gain protection. p. that is. as did Antonio Rocco’s L’Alcibiade fianciullo a scola (c. There were interrogations and men would implicate others in order to have their own penalty remitted. abbracciare (to embrace). Francesco Beccuti of Perugia rejected sex with women in favour of sodomy in his ‘In lode della pederastia’ (In Praise of Pederasty). Its duty was to investigate and charge those accused of sodomy. p. with the limited participation of other courts. this magistracy.000 men were incriminated on charges of sodomy.32 The pervasive general climate of male to male sexual activity was obvious. But the authorities were keen to correct this ‘anomaly’ and. in the small city of just 40.31 Sex between males was so integral a part of Florentine life that sodomites (and the legal system) used specialised vocabulary to describe various activities.000 people. political advancement and financial gain from a son's well-placed lover. 201 32 . It existed for seventy years and over this period it is estimated that. Passive partners were usually aged from 12 to 20 (only 3 percent were over 20). fare (to do). servire (to serve). in 1432. If they were married. Other works presented sodomy in a positive light. 201 33 Ibid.4 Katherine Crawford. nearly half the male population over two generations.33 Boxes were set up in the city. some still preferred young men to their wives. If they were single. 1400-1800. depending on the actions of the defendants. ‘Deviancy and the Cultures of Sex’ in European Sexualities. It was considered particularly degrading 31 Rocke.Some men pursued young men throughout their lives. Common amongst which were: sodimitare (to sodomise). Of active partners. in modern parlance). 17. included obvious allusions to Florentine institutions and individuals associated with sodomy. Poems such as ‘La buca di Montmorello’ and ‘Il gagno’. Legal descriptions also used verbs in the active or passive forms. The extensive data collected by the Office of the Night reveals that sodomy was mainly a crime of young men. It was written about extensively: Attacks on notorious sodomites appeared regularly.

One example of this is as follows: in 1365. where his assistants had piled a mountain of clothing.for someone to remain a passive partner once he was a grown man. 1988. p. but it was the latter that particularly incensed him.37 Bernardino loudly declaimed what he viewed as the increasingly relaxed attitude to sodomy in Florence. Haworth Press. He was attempting to revive the vociferous prosecution and brutal punishment of sodomites that had existed in the city just sixty years before. 95 35 34 . even if they had to burn every man and youth in the city. It was expected that a shift would occur. If they don't want to change their ways by any other means. He was labelled a ‘public and notorious passive sodomite’.. were not subjected to this brutality. fifteen-year-old Giovanni di Giovanni was arrested for allowing himself to be buggered by a number of young men. This activity would usually taper off in the late-twenties to mid-thirties. And few activities aroused more concern and provoked more repression in fifteenth-century Tuscany than did male homosexuality. Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing Unto Others. Dragged outside the city walls on an ass. cosmetics and other effeminate vanities. The preacher set the pile alight. Routledge.. wigs. eds: Kent Gerard & Gert Hekma. p. Spit hard! Maybe the water of your spit will extinguish their fire. Shouting ‘To the fire!’ and ‘They are all sodomites!’ he led the revved-up congregation out of Sante Croce and into the piazza. in the late teenage years.36 On the 7th of April 1424. vilified both Jews and sodomites. ’Eliminating Sodom’ in Suspended Animation. Two days later Bernardino staged a (literally) more inflammatory piece of public theatre.34 The firebrand priest. from the passive to the active partner.35 Bernardino’s sermons attracted huge crowds. 7 38 Robert Mills. each and every one of you spit on the ground and clean your mouth out as well. which goes to illustrate how sexual politics of the time were intricately linked to Ruth Mazo Karras.139 . He told of a sodomite in Verona who had been hacked into quarters and his limbs hung on the city gates and another in Venice who had been smothered in flaming pitch and burnt to death. with a noise that sounded like thunder. maybe they will change when they're made fools of. but that is not to say that this did not happen. when typically a Florentine man would marry. p. Bernardino of Siena. 37 Ibid. 2005.Bernardino was an astute observer and critic who was highly sensitive to the social and political problems of his culture.8 36 Authorities in Venice had also called for barber surgeons to report anyone seeking treatment for anal injury. The scribe recorded that the great mass of people then spat disgustedly on the stone floor. in The Pursuit of Sodomy: Male Homosexuality in Renaissance and Enlightenment Europe. to the roar of the cheering horde. he was then castrated in front of the crowd and branded with a red hot iron ‘in that part of his body where he allowed himself to be known in sodomitical practice’. The sermons of Bernardino of Siena are probably the most extensive and vivid commentary on sodomy in late medieval Italy that we possess by a single contemporary. Florence: Whenever you hear sodomy mentioned. the active partners in the various sexual acts with Giovanni.40 ‘Sodomites in Fifteenth-Century Tuscany: The Views of Bernardino of Siena’. he told the congregation at Sante Croce. pp. .38 It is a telling point that the young men. he exhorted the crowd to do the same.

masculine power politics and the clear distinction between.193 41 Mills. Bernardino of Siena. perceived representations in terms of those ideals. who may have journeyed over many miles. That proto-pornography was also being sold within churches. 193 Ibid. there was a perceived complicity of the sacred and the erotic in Christian representation. sensually and repulsively polluted and defiled himself. one that has quickly moved from ‘underground’ to mainstream. At one point he laments ‘the filthy corruption of boys and adolescents by shameful nude pictures offered for sale at the very temples and sacred places’. As he announces.41 It should be remembered that during this period it was the norm for stalls to be set up within churches and cathedrals with items for sale. thanks to its ubiquity on the Internet. while contemplating the humanity of Christ suspended on the cross (I am ashamed to say and it is terrible even to imagine). so that images shall not be painted and adorned with a seductive charm’. in his treatise De inspirationibus. cathedrals and elsewhere. indeed. Bernardino also had grave concerns about much religious imagery and how it could be interpreted lasciviously by those so inclined. p. that ‘all superstition shall be removed. the masculine ‘do-er’ and the feminised ‘done to’. even the flesh of Christ himself. But that does not mean that viewers always. and even for meat and other food to be cooked within them and sold to pilgrims. Jean Gerson. But it is clear that people of the distant past also had access to 39 40 Mills. and all lasciviousness avoided. ‘I know a person who. throughout Europe. reformers such as Zwingli likewise reproved the sexual arousal elicited by images of male religiosity. and tacit acceptance of.’39 Bernardino does not indicate whether the onanist in question indulged himself in his private chambers or in a public venue. and…images were not the ultimate goal of spiritual meditation. for instance. ‘Hanging With Christ’. Sexuality is not simply something that modern beholders ‘read into’ the texts and images of times past. all the filthy quest for gain eliminated. Creating a festive atmosphere was also undoubtedly a way of ensuring a regular attendance by the masses. Regulations such as this bear witness to the zeal with which authorities attempted to read it out. p. Gender and Holiness. decreed with respect to the veneration of relics and the sacred use of images.40 From the late Middle Ages. then or now. the bishop of Paris.163 . is perhaps surprising to us today. The Council of Trent in the sixteenth century. As early as 1402. Certainly the medieval ideal was to rise above the corporeal contemplation of images. Erotic responses to images of female saints were documented in the writings of German iconoclasts. The seeking of erotic potential in holy images was not restricted to this one single example. wrote a treatise on the ‘corruption of the youth’ in which he demanded laws against the sale of dirty pictures. it is often commonly assumed that pornography is a fairly recent phenomenon. expresses the concern that images of Christ’s passion are potentially corrupting and warns of the dangers of viewing human flesh in sacred art. p.

316. 30 . but the court noted that Caranda had been provoked. ‘I see the god on earth. A twenty-year-old barber. Caure later died. pp.’42 A useful example of this ability of ordinary people to link the sacred and the profanely erotic is given in Steinberg43 and a fuller version appears in Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and Their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France by Natalie Zemon Davis. To which the supplicant responded that ‘[Caure’s] was neither very hard nor heated up’. Later that evening. giving him ‘two slaps on his head and face and made his bonnet for to fall to the ground. Stanford University Press.’46 Ibid. and he was pardoned. pious innocents of popular imagination and they were certainly capable of. France. 1990. and that he was gelded. The bawdy connection between the rising of Christ and the rising of Caranda’s putative erection was clearly inferred by Caure and clearly understood by Caranda. endemic in stews and taverns. A ‘lewd linkage of phallic erection with bodily resurrection must have been broadly vernacular since the 14th century. earthly meanings. His neighbours were playing other roles. approached Caranda and sarcastically said.and desired to see erotic material. imbue a holy Christian image with baser.44 Later in the evening. on the day of the Holy Sacrament of the Altar. or even homoerotically.’45 In self-defence. they passed by Caure’s door. as Caranda and his friends were returning home. Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and Their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France. ‘in record and representation of his holy resurrection’. Claude Caure. 43 44 42 . Caranda drew his knife and struck Caure in the left eye. p31 46 Steinberg. and willing to. and after these words he and his company went on their way. the local toolmaker. ‘visual images of the tortured body of Christ and the saints are not [and were not] devoid of the capacity to signify erotically. who again began insulting Caranda.31 45 Ibid. These were not the unsophisticated. p. if not the Schools. played the role of Christ and placed himself in a tomb.162 Steinberg. The incident occurred in 1530 in the town of Senlis. p. Guillaume Caranda. Did you keep your big cock stiff while playing God?’ uttering these dishonest words arrogantly and against the honour of Christianity. p.317 Natalie Zemon Davis.

Antonio Garcia Roldan. Part Two – Sebastian in the Nineteenth and Twentieth-Centuries . Saint Sebastian.Figure 20. 2005.

47 The boy with a thorn in his side / behind the hatred there lies / a murderous desire for love48 Owing partly to the medicalisation of homosexuality as a distinctly feminising illness at the fin de siecle. causing only minor symptoms such as persistent swollen lymph nodes. It reproduces rapidly. fatigue. 1985. 1996. Sebastian has come to represent the formation – and self-formation – of the modern male homosexual. 334 The Smiths. Shortly after it invades the body. something kicks into high gear. 48 47 .49 Quills Poised Kohn. Routledge. febrile illness that resembles influenza or mononucleosis. HIV may trigger a brief. Caused by organisms that are usually harmless in humans. these illnesses signal the start of AIDS. cripples the immune system. night sweats. Eventually. and leaves the person vulnerable to opportunistic infections that can affect every organ system of the body. in some cases for at least ten years. the final stage of HIV infection. p. ‘Losing His Religion’ in Outlooks: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities and Visual Cultures. ‘The Boy With a Thorn in His Side’. 49 Richard A. and diarrhoea. Kaye. but then it remains latent.HIV attacks the cells that coordinate virtually all phases of the immune response.

‘adopted Sebastian as either an organising motif in their writing or as a personal credo denoting social and sexual pariahdom. The Victorian ‘invert’. of gay pride).Increasingly. nineteenthcentury gay texts with such facility is that nineteenth-century gay writers were preoccupied with the murderous homophobia of the British state… [T]he erotically outrageous. it was with words that Sebastian was reinvigorated from the mid-1800s into the early 1900s. too fragile to live in this world. Such writers as Pater. During this ‘coming out’. Saint Sebastian became the subject of profane interpretation. Largely freed from the burden of specifically Christian meaning. that inversion. now had a personalised idol. his symbology was adapted to fit a host of purposes. a prison sentence of between two and ten years. literature and everyday social interaction. Kevin Kopelson’s.Tauris. as it was in Wilde’s case. he is persecuted but survives his wounds. in the case of ‘indecent assault’. They could identify with his isolation within a society where true identity has to be hidden. as the nature of the difference had not yet entered into the medical canon. As with the popular fin de siècle myth of the vampire. often with hard labour. Rilke. 2003. For gay viewers he had obvious appeal and he became a symbol of gay persecution (and later. The saint's enduring popularity as a ‘gay icon’ was intensely over-determined. so adept at deciphering hidden codes in art. and on his inner strength in admitting who he truly is when questioned. In the 1980s. Frederick Rolfe and the poet John Gray. p. Love’s Litany: The Writing of Modern Homoerotics. would likewise find its representation in an image of noble suffering. I. perpetrators could expect life sentences of penal servitude or. Kaye. as the AIDS epidemic decimated the gay population of San Francisco and New York.52 In print. outrageously erotic specter of the hanged sodomite haunted these men long after Parliament abolished the death penalty for sodomy. 1994. strong connections were made between beauty. as homosexuality was then known. Instead.51 The Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 formally abolished the death penalty for sodomy. Sebastian became an obvious cipher for queer-leaning aesthetes. Wilde.’50 One reason that the old murder story produced. and reproduced itself in. whereupon he is ‘reborn’ and confronts his persecutors. Paradoxically. The martyrdom of the beautiful boy-saint translated well to a sense of isolation and difference. therefore. owing only in part to his role in Renaissance painting as an extraordinarily beautiful male evidently at peace with his arrow-ridden state. Proust. It was natural. 51 . chastity and death. Sebastian’s original status as intercessor against the plague gave him new relevance.30 52 A full description of penalties meted out to British homosexuals in the nineteenth-century can be found in Harry Cocks’ Nameless Offences: Homosexual Desire in the 19th Century. then. In nineteenth-century art and literature. from the nineteenth and throughout the twentieth-century. a difference that there were no words to fully describe. Sebastian was refashioned as the fin-de-siècle homoerotic cipher and usually appeared as a doomed voluptuary. ‘Losing His Religion’. Stanford University Press.113. p. Sebastian's beatific attitude in the midst of an arrow-inflicted anguish suggests a 50 Richard A. Symonds. a boyishly effete outsider.B.

2003. in which he played up the preternatural healing qualities of the saint: ‘Thou didst advene where men lay chained in the dark / and by thy bright touch their sicknesses were healed’. such as this. Wilde combined Gray’s surname with Dorian. Henry Maas. in later years. 54 Oscar Wilde. p.55 Wilde’s erstwhile lover. 58 Aubrey Beardsley to Marc-Andre Raffalovich. Ian Fletcher. his arms raised above his head. among whom was St. a ‘perverse’ stance of bodily vulnerability exploited by numerous late-Victorian writers. Dorian Gray received scathing reviews. to wonder if: Gray knows of Callot’s singularly interesting eau-forte of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian’.polymorphous eroticism. in a letter to his friend the poet Marc-Andre Raffalovich. 55 Wilde deliberately meshed good and evil in his chosen name: whilst Sebastian referred to the saint. Good. p. Sebastian. 1897. after ‘the famously penetrated Saint Sebastian’. amongst ‘many saints and martyrs’. Barnes and Noble. Melmoth was a reference to Melmoth the Wanderer.56 wrote his own poem about Sebastian. which can also be observed in his series The Miseries of War.57 The poem prompted Aubrey Beardsley.’ – Quoted in Oscar Wilde: The Critical Heritage. and in such images as The Massacre of the Innocents. Karl Beckson. 21 & 22) is very unusual in representations of the saint. Sebastian as Fin de Siècle Homosexual Martyr’ in A Splendid Readiness for Death. first published in 1890. Gray was also the inspiration behind Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. working class poet John Gray. 113. the beautiful. and the contaminating trail of garish vulgarity which is over all Mr Wilde's elaborate Wardour Street aestheticism and obtrusively cheap scholarship. dispatching the inhabitants. its tawdry mysticism. ‘Saint Sebastian’. J. Oscar Wilde describes a cloak owned by Gray. Sebastian is tethered to a stake in the centre of a ruined Arcadian landscape.G. 183. is significant. ed. Callot was a master of the crowd-scene. There is a charming soldier in the background picking up the arrows that have missed the Saint. in which the hero sells his soul to the devil. 1970.53 In The Picture of Dorian Gray. p. Plantin Publishers. by Charles Maturin (1820). upon which were ‘medallions of many saints and martyrs. The Letters of Aubrey Beardsley. its theatrical cynicism. fair and golden youth. which referred to the Dorians. 1993. Wilde went under the pseudonym Sebastian Melmoth. Upon its publication in 1890. The flags and lances of the soldiers lend a festive air to the proceedings. 57 John Gray. the great literary outcast. p. in that the narrative action seems almost completely incidental to the masterful examination of light and shadow. Kerber. from the Daily Chronicle: ‘[A] gloating study of the mental and physical corruption of a fresh.72. ‘Queer Arrows: St. 1970. The Sebastian etching is part of Callot’s series of martyred saints. soldiers and onlookers have climbed up the crumbling cliffs on either side in order to get a better view of the execution. p. Duncan and W. ed. The character was regarded by Balzac as one of the great outcasts of all literature and this point was not lost on Wilde. The Picture of Dorian Gray. 53 Richard Kaye. Barnabas and Thaddaeus. one of the three major tribes of ancient Greece who were commonly understood by queer Victorians to have promulgated paederastic relations.54 That Wilde felt compelled to draw attention to this one saint. 56 . Courier Dover Publications. whilst in exile in Paris. its studied insincerity. The Poems of John Gray.58 The image to which Beardsley referred (figs. wherein a thousand soldiers rampage through a city. which might be horrible and fascinating but for its effeminate frivolity. 314. ELT Press. 1988. In the image. its flippant philosophisings. ed.102.L. 5 May. which includes Thomas.

The Martyrdom of St. stretched against a totem pole in the sunlight. 1631 (detail showing Beardsley’s ‘charming soldier’). Figure 22. Sebastian. It takes a few glances to actually register the tiny saint within the image. Sebastian. The soldier collecting the (disproportionately large) arrows in the background is just the sort of visual detail that the brilliant graphic artist Beardsley would pick up on. The Martyrdom of St. etching.Figure 21. Jaques Callot. but there he is. 1631. Jaques Callot. . the viewer’s attention is more immediately drawn to the shadowy archers in the foreground.

as Bynum points out. between 1905 and 1906. Raffalovich had converted to Catholicism. Once only. In 1911 Franz Kafka wrote in his diary ‘I am supposed to pose in the nude for the artist Ascher. who was raised a Catholic. as a model for a St. ed. The previous year. which proved to be life-long.But he was probably more interested in making a coded camp reference to the sexual relationship. ‘Saint Sebastian’. joining the Dominicans and taking the name Brother Sebastian. who. p. Albert Ernest Flemming. by likening him to a lactating mother. Yet he smiles darkly and remains unhurt. Routledge. with its ‘quivering arrows’ springing ‘from out his tender loins’. Zone Books. 1988. of linking Sebastian to the Madonna. Raffalovich followed shortly afterwards and paid for Gray’s new church to be built.61 For both Christ and Sebastian. in Selected Poems. each iron quivering along its end. in the first stanza. judging those inferiors as they scornfully let go the vile destroyers of a lovely thing. Beardsley wrote the letter in 1897. is frequently portrayed lactating or spurting blood or milk from his breast.’62 Unfortunately.60 Rilke. . The arrows fly: up. In the final stanza. 59 Gray became a Catholic priest in the same year and was sent to Edinburgh. there is no evidence that any such painting was ever completed. but they change to denial.222. Sebastian. which seems to be the whole point of his existence. In the case of Rilke’s Sebastian. up they come as if they sprang from out his tender loins. Withdrawn as mothers are when suckling still. makes the point. p. ‘Saint Sebastian’. 1986. oh. The Diaries of Franz Kafka. This connects him to images of Christ in mediaeval images.. Max Brod. and wrapt within himself as by a wreath. Schocken Books. 93 62 Franz Kafka. N. trans. we see Sebastian wantonly destroyed because of his beauty. 61 Caroline Walker Bynum. between Raffalovich and John Gray. so great his sorrow grows. This eroticism is heightened in the next stanza. this has the effect of sexually inverting him and making him a figure of both spiritual and physical nourishment.59 Rilke wrote his darkly erotic poem. 1910-1913. 60 Rainer Maria Rilke. his eyes reveal the pain as he looks on. Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion. it also suggests the unavoidable sexual dimension of ‘one who is sucked’. while he was working as Rodin’s secretary: As one recumbent so he stands totally upheld by his great will.103. p.Y.

So vociferously did Ruskin attack the National Gallery for its purchase of two paintings by Reni that they bought no other seicento work for another fifty years. based upon the potentially (homo)erotic charge of many of his works: Samson (c. There are seven paintings of Sebastian ascribed to either Reni or his pupils. arguably. 2002. (trans. The ‘Divine’ Guido: Religion. Sex.1613-15).51. Courier Dover Publications. or ‘the Divine Guido’. 111.’68 any speculation regarding his sexual desires must remain simply that. one artist in particular became their touchstone. Swann’s Way. In 2008. C. Spear.1620). the Dulwich Picture Gallery. His mouth. as he was generally known. Money and Art in the World of Guido Reni65 his ‘suspicion…that he suffered from the stigma [sic] of homosexual desire. 1997. like the eyes of a good-looking martyr whose body bristles with arrows. 66 Ibid. 70 in the event.63 Of the hundreds of Sebastians available to queer aesthetes of the Victorian and Edwardian eras on their various grand tours. Richard E. a cultured man of fluctuating sexuality. 67 Ibid.1620). his physical beauty and ‘soft’ demeanour. of course.Marcel Proust made several references to Sebastian in Swann’s Way (1913) when linking him to the engineer.. was the first to recover. Spear. London.51.. and jarring discord. 64 63 . On one hand. p. which had been stiffened and seared with bitter lines.69 and there are several doubtful. Guido Reni. writers fall into the trap of assuming Guido’s homosexuality. the Marcel Proust. As well as the multiple Saint Sebastians there are many near-identical ‘multiples’ from his studio. for example. Today. p. quoted in Spear. also. 68 Carlo Malvasia.52. states in his excellent The ‘Divine’ Guido: Religion. Crucifixions’ and ‘Flights into Egypt’ etc. and. 23-28 and fig. Scott Moncrieff).30) are of fluctuating technical quality and we can speculate on the varying degrees of the master’s hand involved in the creation of each. which was intended to showcase the Reni in their own collection and to bring the other key Reni Sebastians together for the first time. so it was in his interest to keep up a high level of production. with a penchant for wearing make-up: His fringed eyelids darkened. 69 Reni was an inveterate gambler. copies by lesser hands. Apollo Flaying Marsyas (c. 65 Richard E.64 On the other hand. and smiled. an authority on the life and work of the artist. Sex. who at one time numbered in the hundreds. including ‘Cleopatras’. the Louvre picture was deemed too fragile to travel. and his devotion to his mother!67 While it is true that Reni never married and that in his day he ‘was thought to be a virgin [because] he always looked like marble when observing so many beautiful girls who served as his models. Yale. this is perhaps surprising because John Ruskin had stridently attacked the artist for his 'taint and stain. while his eyes still seemed full of pain. ‘Christs’. there was much queer speculation about his sexual predilection. his many Sebastians. Money and Art in the World of Guido Reni. p. marked sensuality and impurity' and Guido’s star was very much on the wane. staged the exhibition: The Agony and the Ecstasy: Guido Reni's Saint Sebastians. M. Legrandin. p.70 These seven paintings (figs.K. and drooped. Hercules on the Pyre (c.’66 Spear’s assumption seems to be based upon the artist’s youthful aversion to rough horse-play. for example. inferior.

in fact. Charles Baker suggests that Locke/Kingsley is unconsciously reacting to the homoeroticism of the painting. 73 Charles Kingsley. three-quarter length Sebastians. In a frank analysis. I knew not why. a young tailor. which seemed to ask. the upturned brow. standing out against the background of lurid night.” Alton’s gaze into the martyr’s eyes is another intercourse-like eye-wedlock. reproachful. Macmillan and Co. which will enable him to emerge from his Puritanism. Climaxing in “swelling..73 He recognises that the image is calculated to awaken something within him. 23): Timidly. No. in particular. but eagerly. 2002.Dulwich’s own Sebastian (fig. its eroticism is subsumed in a moment of spiritual transcendence. 31). Vol. 72 71 . rolled slowly down my face”. the eponymous narrator.” “bursting. its theatricality. confusion and even hallucination. who wrote an article about this exhibition states: ‘two of the experts I consulted claim that only two of them are by Reni: the Genoa painting and the version that belongs to Dulwich. 3. The arrow quivering in the shrinking side. rolled slowly down my face. my eyes seemed bursting from my head with the intensity of my gaze. and great tears. in Victorian Studies. and stood entranced before it. or a large numbers of artworks in one place. The breadth and vastness of light and shade upon those manly limbs. that fired the imaginations of Wilde and his contemporaries. The condition is named after Stendhal. 28) and the superior one in Genoa (fig. However. in which the saint's hands are bound behind his back. one in Rome (fig. my eyes seemed bursting from my head with the intensity of my gaze. pp. how long?’…My heart swelled within me.74 Entirely more ‘knowing’ and self-reflective responses to Reni’s work came from the English writer and photographer Frederic Rolfe (the self-styled Baron Corvo) and Oscar Wilde. the eyes in whose dark depths enthusiastic faith seemed conquering agony and shame. so grand and yet so delicate. its exaggeration. ‘Erotic Martyrdom: Kingsley’s Sexuality beyond Sex’. and great tears. Sebastian… [T]he very defects of the picture. ‘O Lord. Stendhal syndrome: a psychosomatic condition experienced by individuals exposed to certain particularly beautiful works of art. the parted lips. Saturday. 23) and the one in the Genoa collection (fig. like those martyrs in the Revelations. published in 1850. In Charles Kinglsey’s Alton Locke. Baker says that Locke is overwhelmed by emotion: “My heart swelled within me.” and the ejaculation of “great tears. 1862. visits the Dulwich Gallery and appears to experience the Stendhal syndrome72 in front of the Reni Sebastian (fig. I went up to the picture. half-resigned. the significance of this episode goes unremarked. Alton Locke. Spring. as Alton’s “I knew not why” indicates. 74 Charles Barker. 2008. I knew not why. February 16. James Fenton in The Guardian. tears. the “dark depths” of Sebastian’s eyes. 54-55. 31) are superior works.’71 In any event. the poet James Fenton. who described such sensations when in Florence in 1817. They were both entranced by Reni’s twin. 44. were especially calculated to catch the eye of a boy awaking out of the narrow dullness of Puritanism. here perhaps combined with an anal image. it was these two paintings. the helplessness of the bound arms. Symptoms may include dizziness. It was Guido’s St.

St Sebastian. 1600s. The Prado. Auckland Art Gallery. Dulwich Picture Gallery. c. early 1630s. . St Sebastian. Figure 25. Figure 24. St Sebastian. Guido Reni. Figure 26. Guido Reni. Guido Reni.Figure 23.1625. Guido Reni. London. Paris. Madrid. The Louvre.1619. 1617 . St Sebastian.

St Sebastian. Where God’s eternal gardens gleam and glow Sebastian’s stainless soul no soil doth know The glorious beauty of the youth to bare. His gracious form all stripped of earthly guise Naked. early 1600s. Guido Reni. . Charles Kain-Jackson. Bologna National Art Gallery. 1639-1640. 1970. pp. The second of the sonnets runs as follows: A Roman soldier-boy. Figure 28.75 75 In Timothy Smith. but brave as a young lion can be. 182-183. Transfixed by arrows he gains the victory. His strong arms lifted up for sacrifice. Rome. And all unashamed because the saints are there. These were published in The Artist magazine and were thought so scandalous that they were instrumental in the ousting of the editor. Rolfe wrote ‘Two Sonnets for a Picture of Saint Sebastian the Martyr in the Capitoline Gallery. And angels bear before his bright sweet eyes The wreath of amaranth in Paradise. Where he shall put on immortality. St Sebastian. Pinacotheca Capitolene. In 1891. Love in Earnest: Some Notes on the Lives and Writings of English ‘Uranian’ Poets from 1889 to 1930. Guido Reni. And light the Land where fadeless lilies blow With his limbs of flaming whiteness and rayed hair. Rome’. Routledge & Kegan Paul. bound to a tree.Figure 27.

For Wilde. 29). a youth of ethereal beauty. Wilde rhapsodised over a painting by John Stanhope entitled Love and the Maiden (fig. it was the Genoa Reni which sparked devotion. The photograph of Biondi was perhaps not directly inspired by images of Sebastian. 30). In1890. with his rayed mane. against a backdrop of tree trunks with one arm raised. he wrote his first ever art review. and he is clad in a tunic of oriental colours. Tito Biondi and his friends at play at Lake Nemi. Rolfe took a series of photographs of a young companion. in the same year. It was at the opening of this exhibition that Wilde famously wore an overcoat made in the shape of a cello. glories unashamedly in his strength and graceful beauty and.76 In this piece. just outside Rome (fig. and in particular. His boyish beauty is of that 76 Published in Dublin University Magazine. Frederick Rolfe (Baron Corvo). for an exhibition at the Grosvenor Gallery. 1890. Figure 29. as it is in so many images of the saint. likening him to the Reni Sebastian: A rose-garland presses the boy's brown curls. After cursorily mentioning the maiden. and delicately sensuous are his face and his bared limbs. but it is strikingly similar in its depiction of a near-naked youth. . He first saw the painting as a student in 1877. the whole point of the poem seems rather to extol the physical perfection and desirability of the very earthly young man. Wilde went to a great length in describing the boy. although there is a mention of angels waiting to bear him to Paradise. while passing through Genoa on his way to a holiday in Greece. 1877. Shortly afterwards. Portrait of Tito Biondi at Lake Nemi. the figure of Love.Rolfe’s brave young lion.

77 . meaningfully shooting an arrow from a bow’. in Stanhope’s painting is a sort of grown up (sexually mature) version of cherubic Eros. The figure of Love. where boys can still be found as beautiful as the Charmides of Plato. Guido's ‘St Sebastian’ in the Palazzo Rosso at Genoa is one of these boys. Schaffer collection. Wilde managed to ignore the undeniably heterosexual intention underpinning the image.peculiar type unknown in Northern Europe. John Stanhope. Saturday. the two pictures present a beautiful youth passive and a beautiful youth active. He goes on to praise the ‘bloom and vitality and radiance of this adolescent beauty’. neatly encompassing the same suggestion of homosexual versatility I spoke of earlier in connection with the Bronzino Sebastian (fig. When seen in concert. which is to do with the notion of penetration. Wilde visited Keats’ grave in Rome. Number 4. and wrote the sonnet. in a reversal of the dynamic of the Reni painting. but common in the Greek islands. Sydney. in the Stanhope painting. ‘The Grave of Keats’. as was his wont. As well as Love’s physical likeness to Reni’s Sebastian. But. 8).78 In 1881. white shoes and boater. Victorian Poetry Volume 46. 1877. Winter. as Wilde suggests. ‘Falling Out With Oscar’ in The Guardian. Australia. Love and the Maiden. there exists a photograph of Wilde’s sometime lover. the poet John Gray ‘standing in a garden wearing an immaculate white suit. August 30. there may have been a further connection for Wilde. describing the whole picture as being ‘full of grace’. 2008. Love is holding a bow and is therefore the active figure. 77 Figure 30. in order to give a reading with paederastic focus. By happy coincidence. which includes the following lines about the consumptive poet: ‘The Quoted in Iain Ross’s article. 78 Fiona MacCarthy. 2008. ‘Charmides and The Sphinx: Wilde's engagement with Keats’. in an example of life imitating art.

80 Figure 31. and sado-masochism. I thought of him as a Priest of Beauty slain before his time. and as foully slain’. and the vision of [Guido’s] Saint Sebastian came before my eyes as I saw him at Genoa. within Oscar Wilde. raising his eyes with divine. 1999.29. Guido Reni.youngest of the Martyrs here is lain. a lovely brown boy. Richard A. Kaye. Palazzo Rosso. p. 27. early 1600s. The martyr fostered associations of feminized masculinity. St. 1. Victorian Literature and Culture.79 Wilde added an explanatory note: As I stood beside the mean grave of this divine boy. Sebastian and the Victorian Discourse of Decadence’. Sebastian. Sebastian assumed a key place at the center of a nineteenth-century cultural debate on the appropriate role of a Christian hero. / Fair as Sebastian. 269-70. with crisp.81 Each of these associations was crystallised. also. pp. impassioned gaze towards the Eternal Beauty of the opening Heavens. As Richard Kaye writes: St. p. bound by his evil enemies to a tree and. 81 . who became the homosexual martyr par excellence on the 25th May. 1895 when he 79 80 Quoted in Kopelson. clustering hair and red lips. Genoa. Vol. Ibid.29. working-class consciousness. ‘”Determined Raptures”: St. all seemingly sanctioned by religious faith. No. homoerotic desire. though pierced by arrows.

Caricature of Oscar Wilde from The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News.83 On the left is Wilde as effeminate dandy. p. even though it was the maximum sentence allowed for the charge under the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885. 82 An indication of the vehemence with which the case was pursued. in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. see Neil McKenna’s The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde. 32). and the venom that was aimed at Wilde. Century. July 21. 297. . Wilde had assumed ‘sainthood’. a shorn Wilde. thirteen years before any trial. Figure 32.was convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years' imprisonment with hard labour. 2003. For a detailed examination of the trial and of Wilde’s time in prison. on the right. is that the judge said the sentence was 'totally inadequate for a case such as this'. The transubstantiation was already complete.82 The establishment had been out to get Wilde for some time and this is indicated by the publication. 1882. ‘Determined Raptures’. of a caricature on the likely outcome of the writer’s continuing adherence to knee breeches (fig. his entire body studded with the arrows of prison uniform. 83 This image was also published in Kaye.

The downfall of Oscar Wilde…created a public image for the ‘homosexual’. 90 Ellenzweig. many gay men quietly crossed the Channel in fear of prosecution and ruin. p.500 of these. ‘Clearly he saw himself as someone ‘on a cross’. 1992.000 glass photograph plates. for instance. tragically in 1936. a term now coming into use…The Wilde trials were in effect labeling processes of a most explicit kind drawing a clear border between acceptable and abhorrent behaviour. 51. it was a short step for queer artists to extend the play-acting into aesthetic fantasy. Fully Exposed: The Male Nude in Photography. Sex Politics and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality Since 1800. 89 Ibid. 86 Baron Willhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931): Prussian photographer who. In this image Jeffrey Weeks.84 Suddenly. At the time of his death. expatriate Prussian photographer Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden made several self-portraits in Christ-like costume and pose.87 For verisimilitude. either emotionally or as an artist’. queer aesthetes pictured themselves in Wilde’s martyr-position and some took the next step and pictured themselves literally as martyrs. Day was an early American voice to claim photography as a valid art form.For they know not what they do Wilde’s trial and imprisonment sent shock waves throughout queer England and beyond. Naturally. in ‘classical’ settings. there was a very public face to this private ‘abhorrent’ behaviour. Oscar Wilde visited the baron upon his release from prison and was in possession of at least one photograph from the baron’s studio. p.85 In Sicily. 88 Emmanuel Cooper. …Christian martyrdoms presented attractive if exaggerated analogies to their own human torments (not the least of which…was the necessity to be ever more discreet about one’s sexual tastes in the wake of the Oscar Wilde scandal). p. 36) features a young naked male model (not Day. Longman. Routledge. p. F. Columbia University Press. Adept at assuming the various disguises of imposed heterosexuality. 1989. swathed in the assumed disguise of heterosexual ‘normality’. 103 Allen Ellenzweig. p. 160. in 1876. Many more retreated into themselves. alleging they were pornography. for whom Taormina was an essential destination on any Mediterranean tour.89 These images of Christian iconography were ‘striking examples of barely mediated homoeroticism’. 87 Day counted Aubrey Beardsley as a friend and became a major patron. he grew his hair and beard long and starved himself for several weeks so that his body would be suitably emaciated. He had also met Wilde whom he emulated in manner and dress. the gay. the specially built cross was imported from Syria and ‘nominally constructed to be as historically correct as possible’. 160. before the shoot. settled in Taormina. The Homoerotic Photograph: Male Images from Durieu/Delacroix to Mapplethorpe. 86 In Boston. 1995. this time) languorously posed in front of an all but invisible cross. Study for the Crucifixion (fig. such was his identification with suffering martyrdom.88 He was to revisit the subject several times over the next few years. Sicily in order that the dry climate might alleviate the symptoms of his tuberculosis. In the wake of the sentencing. 33-35). These images were sold to well-heeled gay tourists.90 One image from this series came in for particular censure. Von Gloeden made a lucrative career photographing the local youths naked. Von Gloeden left 3. the wealthy gay photographer and publisher. Holland Day photographed himself as the crucified Christ (figs. 85 84 . Mussolini’s fascist police destroyed 2. 51.

and for once Day veers from truth-to-subject because the model is clearly much younger than the early-thirties usually accepted as the age when Jesus went to his death. 1896.Figure 33. the subject seems to have been much more about male nudity than the purported religious theme. 1896 Figure 34. F. Crucifixion. Crucifixion with Roman Soldiers. Holland Day. Figure 35. 51. p. hips tilted.91 91 Ellenzweig. head slightly thrown back to reveal the throat. torso off-center. 1898. Holland Day. F. Allen Ellenzweig remarks: Such a pose is now almost a cliché for sexual ardor: arms upraised. The Seven Words of Christ. . Writing about this image. Holland Day. and knees bent. F.

about an exhibition of Day’s work at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. What Edwin Becker [has written elsewhere] applies here too: The ‘image has been carefully cropped. He was torn to pieces by the Thracian Maenads for bringing homosexuality to Thrace. was a popular subject for Victorian and Edwardian queer aesthetes. his much loved wife. and made a series of photographs on the theme between 1905 and 1907. whose sensuous Mediterranean beauty lent an exotic element to the enterprise. Frederick Holland Day. Study for the Crucifixion c. The working-class youth became a favourite model for a while and as well as appearing in several images of Saint Sebastian.1898. Orpheus shunned women and would only sleep with boys. several times as Orpheus92 carrying a home-made lyre (figs. .Figure 36. 2001. Nicola Giancola. In this image. and as a sultry. 41 and 42). The model for these images was a shoe-shine boy.’ The nipple is the point of the picture. the direction of the model’s sideways glance is taken up by the line of the feather which curves down past his shoulder to point directly at his nipple. The mythology is just a decoy. March. Day also found Saint Sebastian to have been a fruitful subject. 36). generally ‘mythological’ youth in a feathered hat (fig. a legendary poet and musician from Greek mythology. 93 Sarah Boxer: a brief article in ArtForum. After the death of Eurydice. so that a nipple is just delicately visible at the lower edge. was also photographed in the guise of a spearthrowing storm-god.93 92 Orpheus.

from 1905. his partner in the publishing house Copeland and Day. In Nude Archer. he wrote: ‘is it right to adopt those of another class than our own?’.10). Frederick Holland Day. in a letter to Horace Copeland. Day prefigures his Sebastian works. the sense of generalised antique mythology. anticipating his later role as the martyr). naked youth (once again. working-class men. he aims into the heavens as if to bring down some 94 Emmanuel Cooper. introducing him to the work of Blake and his friend Beardsley. Youth in Winged Hat and Robe. predominantly heterosexual. as was the case with the thirteen-year-old Lebanese immigrant Kahlil Gibran whom Day recognised as particularly gifted and whom he encouraged in literary and artistic pursuits. amongst others. who shared Day’s tastes in young. All the elements are there: the lithe. The Sexual Perspective: Homosexuality and Art in the Last 100 Years in the West. and the bow being aimed for a killer shot. Giancola.Figure 36. 1907. Day agonised over his attraction to men below his own class.82 . Routledge. however. The Prophet (1923). the archer’s intent is unclear. Gibran later went on to write the enormously popular book of poetic essays. 1994.94 Some of these ‘adoptions’ were also purely patriarchal in nature. p. One could draw exactly the same conclusions about the Perugino painting discussed earlier (fig. Here. one of several with this subject.

Holland Day. Figure 40. F. 1907. 1906. Figure 41. Holland Day. Figure 39. Sebastian. F. Holland Day. Nude Youth With Laurel Leaves Standing Against Rocks. 1905. St. Nude Archer. 1907. St. Sebastian. F. .Figure 38. Holland Day. F.

with their judicious crotch-coverings but as this image is photographic and therefore ‘real’. as with his Study for the Crucifixion. 1907. unconvincing arrow. are altogether more earthy. serves merely to draw our attention to Giancola’s right nipple. (figs. the ‘arrow-pierced martyr allowed Victorian writers and artists to conceive of the male nude in sensually rich terms usually accorded female Figure 42. 1907. This demands the viewer’s unconscious participation. In this series we again see at work Day’s judicious cropping of imagery. The effect operates in the same way as we have seen in Renaissance paintings. Nude Youth with Lyre. Holland Day. 41). Figure 43. Nude Youth with Lyre Sitting on Rock. even sexual in effect. just as it had been in the Renaissance. the head tilted back in erotic surrender. for example (fig. this seems to have been Day’s main purpose. F. with its squiggle of artificial blood. the single. in the image from 1907. Holland Day. Again we see the arms thrown up. we ‘see’ the genitals because they are not visible. Richard A.celestial quarry. 38-41). Kaye believes that Saint Sebastian’s sudden popularity with Victorian and Edwardian photographers was because that medium had become important in recording the recent dead for posterity. F. And. 40) the bottom edge of the image has been trimmed to within a tantalising millimetre of the genitals. The subsequent images of Sebastian and associated nudes. these are rather lack-lustre in effect. Where there are arrows. which again feature Nicola Giancola. . in Nude Youth with Laurel Leaves (fig. there is a more heightened erotic sense.

before the first arrows have been loosed. the model in the Rejlander photograph stood out as unusual. 44). H. ‘”Determined Raptures”. the ecstasy chemically. Clearly. Oscar Rejlander. The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. spoke highly of this image because the model appeared to have been ‘one who received a thorough gymnastic training’.’95 Such sensuality is certainly indicated in Oscar Rejlander’s The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian (fig. Wall. Wall. The homosexual was now a recognisable. His Sebastian shows the saint at the start of his ordeal. which would come to be ubiquitous under the mirror-balls and lasers of late-twentieth-century gay dance parties and discos. 1886. A. ‘Rejlander’s Photographic Art Studies’. by the late 1800s homosexuality was entering into the medical textbooks. One Victorian critic. there is a thoroughly present-day aspect to his chiselled body. p. indeed. with ‘muscles so clean-cut and well-developed’. abhorrent and sick entity.Figure 44.. [T]he idea of homosexuality as an identity dates. October 8. 95 96 Kaye. rather than supernaturally induced. from the late nineteenth century.. 652-653. A. like the word ‘homosexuality’ itself. c. so much so that some earlier practitioners of sodomy could perceive their homosexual acts as distinct from themselves and their own sexual identity. The Swedish photographer had settled in England and became known as the father of art photography. Photographic News (London). he pioneered social-protest photography and made many images of street-children and prostitutes (which were sometimes one and the same). H. figures in painting. pathologised as an illness.1867.96 Rejlander’s intention was no doubt to suggest pictorially the inner strength of the saint through his outward masculine appearance. in his day. . 281. As I have mentioned. pp.

German aristocrat: artist. where he remained for the rest of his life.’ demonstrated behaviors culturally designated as female. p.98 Sebastian was the perfect queer icon for the uncertainties of the closing century and the dawning of the new. in order to later make paintings from the images. whilst living in Florence. 101 Elisar von Kupffer (1872-1942). then by a very artificial-looking halo. 2000. as a protest at the treatment of Wilde in England. developed an esoteric. the Roman Empire. .The ‘homosexual’ male. In 1908. He gazes dreamily at the viewer. needed to be restored to their original queer intention by transposing female with male pronouns.100 The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune In a photographic self-portrait from the early years of the twentieth-century (fig. p. Estonia-born. one arm is raised. The poems came from Ancient Greece. the Estonian aristocrat. possibly including [and this is a male heterosexual fear that continues to the present day] sexual desire for ‘normal’ males. was increasingly understood in the late-Victorian epoch as medical illness. ‘Determined Raptures’. At the outbreak of the World War One. an important anthology of historical poems with homosexual themes. ‘Losing His Religion’. Their luxurious villa.283. As a martyr with long-standing associations with disease…Sebastian appears to have become a fitting embodiment of the transition whereby homosexual desire. The merest flap of material covers his genitals. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.99 With impassioned if veiled enthusiasm. Kupffer fled to Locarno. late-Victorian writers [and artists] of selfconsciously homosexual allegiances submitted to images of St. the philosopher Eduard von Mayer (1872-1960). p. which was built around ideas of gleichgeschlechtliche Liebe. in part. he and his lover. the anthology was put together.89. or love of the same sex. Elisar von Kupffer. Japan. Switzerland. medical and anthropological representation of the individual’. 97 [An] explanation for the correlations linking Sebastian with homosexual desire is related to developments in late-Victorian sexual theory. pale in the morning sun. 291. his docile face framed first by his perfect coiffure. 99 Ibid. poet. the thong which holds this tiny apron in place juts obliquely from his lower abdomen and casts its shadow on his slightly raised left thigh. he published a book about Sodoma. ‘simultaneously sacred and heretical in meaning [and] isomorphic with turn-of-the-century scientific. Sebastian as a coded means of articulating same-sex desire. 98 Kaye. The image is suffused with the overweening narcissism that informed all of Kupffer’s visual work. His pampered white body gleams. quasi-religious doctrine called Klarismus (Clarity). A single arrow emerges from his ribs. The first of its kind. 97 Jay Losey and William Dean Brewer. 100 Kaye. p.101 leans insouciantly against a tree in a garden setting. either as a result of congenital ‘inversion’ or moral ‘perversion. historian and playwright.89. Many had been bowdlerised by homophobic censors and. once a theologically constructed sin. the other is behind his back. Kupffer had a horror of the natural aging process and sometimes photographed himself in the clothes of young boys. In 1899 Kupffer published Lieblingminne und Freundesliebe in der Weltliteratur. 45). Here. during translation. the Arab world and Renaissance Italy etc. Mapping Male Sexuality: Nineteenth-Century England.

103 That it is a paradise populated almost solely by Kupffer. Switzerland…was a temple and a museum in one. and Male Bonding Before Hitler's Rise. soporific expression and a set of infant genitals. The centre of this miniature paradise on earth was a round room whose walls consisted of a monumental painting by Kupffer. early 1900s. A History of Homosexuality in Europe. Figure 46. rejuvenated and endlessly replicated.102 Figure 45. 1991. transported to a homosexual paradise’. sitting on a water lilies as butterflies float by. 102 Harry Oosterhuis. each wears a smug. Homosexuality and Male Bonding in Pre-Nazi Germany: the Youth Movement. variously clasping garlands of flowers. Elisar von Kupffer. p. fantasy landscape. the Gay Movement. The youths are ‘strikingly similar’ because nearly all of the eighty-five are highly flattering. is perhaps revealing. romanticised portraits of Kupffer himself.48). Elisar von Kupffer as Saint Sebastian. Within this astonishingly kitsch painting (fig.90 103 Florence Tamagne. the Klarwelt der Seigen…eighty-four [actually eighty-five] strikingly similar naked ephebic youths in various positions. undated (early 1900s?).199 . 1919-1939. gayschoolboy fantasy ‘evoke[s] the androgynous figure of disguised adolescents. The cloying. kissing each other under a pale rainbow.the Sanctuarium Artis Elisarion in Locarno. 2004 p. Elisar von Kupffer. Algora Publishing. Saint Sebastian. Haworth Press. the ephebes cavort naked against a gelati-coloured.

Elisar von Kupffer. Die Klarwelt der Seigen (detail). early 1920s. undated. Elisar von Kupffer. Saint Sebastian. .Figure 47. Figure 48.

he will be remembered for his literary contributions to the queer canon. an important anthology of historical poems with homosexual themes. tethered to a branch by his left wrist.104 But then of course Kupffer was shielded by his wealth from the harsher reality faced by ordinary gay men. Reutlinger’s wiry body inclines against a leaning tree trunk. The real target for the archers is the plump buttocks. Kupffer was one of the very few who felt able to speak out against the burgeoning trend to ‘medicalise’ the condition of homosexuality. He ‘rejected both Magnus Hirschfeld’s and Freud’s doctrines of homosexuality because. even neurotic. we see a back view of a schoolboy-saint. the Arab world and Renaissance Italy etc. he had published a book about Sodoma. the Roman Empire. 2001. Other Objects of Desire: Collectors and Collecting Queerly. in part. Ensconced in the highly rarefied atmosphere of the Sanctuarium Artis Elisarion.87. during translation. in effect. on the picturesque shore of Lake Maggiore. his genitals are neatly hidden. The poems came from Ancient Greece. that he is gay. In 1899 Kupffer had published Lieblingminne und Freundesliebe in der Weltliteratur. which have been presented in no uncertain terms. The success or otherwise of the drawing depends upon Kupffer’s assumption that the viewer is male and. based upon a highly romanticised. which are considerable. Japan. Kupffer/Sebastian has here been reduced to the sum of his sexual predilections. beneath a bandage-like fold of cloth. selective understanding of Ancient Greek society. Kupffer thought. the anthology was put together. 46). The first of its kind. Fortunately. Without the signifying arrows. in tolerant. moreover. some sort of toga is draped over his shoulder. In a rough sketch for another painting of the saint. The image is psychologically troubling. needed to be restored to their original queer intention by transposing female with male pronouns. in the middle distance a line of fir trees also tilts to the left. once again featuring Kupffer in the role. following the direction of his heavenward gaze. neutral Switzerland. engaging the viewer/archer with one imploring eye. like a towel that a bather might carry on the way to the water. A misfired arrow is already lodged in the tree trunk above him. Wiley-Blackwell. and typically depicting a much younger version of himself (fig. he dreamed of a brave new paederastic world order. as a protest at the treatment of Wilde in England. 47). the French poet Jean Reutlinger enacts Sebastian’s impending torment (figure 49). proffered so coquettishly. In a photographic self-portrait from 1913. In 1908. one is a direct transcription of the illustrated photograph (fig. On a gently sloping hillside. rather than his lurid visual fantasies. p. . Many had been bowdlerised by homophobic censors and. It is clear that the image was made for a specific coterie of like-minded ‘aesthetes’ who would be unlikely to mistake the image’s frank meaning. he could as easily be an inmate in the grounds of a 104 Michael Camille and Adrian Rifkin. they falsely somaticized or psychologized the essentially ethical and aesthetic basis of homoerotic attractions’.Kupffer made several paintings of Saint Sebastian. Due perhaps to his privileged social standing. Kupffer/Sebastian turns his head expectantly. almost clinically. whilst living in Florence.

the area denoted as heaven by the locus of Reutlinger’s gaze. everything in the image is being sucked up into the top left corner. along with his other duties. This is perhaps appropriate. assumed the symbology of personal neurosis. I sing the steady aim of your arrows . The composition is also skewed and unstable. whose million sons perished beneath a seemingly absent God. the photograph was taken in the year before the commencement of World War One. 1913. it forecasts the grave crisis of faith that would shortly descend upon Europe. And Sebastian had now. Photographic Self Portrait as Saint Sebastian. It is as if this paradise that Reutlinger/Sebastian stares up at has become a vacuum and everything is being drawn towards it: God as Black Hole. Unintentionally. Figure 49. in which Reutlinger himself was killed.madhouse. Jean Reutlinger.

with the inscription. ‘I was on the verge of throwing myself out of the car in order to stay with you (little you) in Cadaques. I sing your fair struggle of Catalan lights. Bloomsbury. such as Honey is Sweeter Than Blood. when he had to unexpectedly cut short a holiday the pair was spending together. they soon came to refer to each other. when the film Un Chien Andalou. There has been recently renewed interest in the intense relationship between Lorca and Dalí. Lorca thought the film was about him and was most likely also jealous of the alliance between Dalí and Buñuel. postcards.105 And even many years after Lorca’s execution. Dalí confessed to Lorca that he had spent the whole day re-reading the letters he had sent him. a collaboration between Dalí and Luis Buñuel. which. ‘Hey everyone.’ In 1926. in part: Oh Salvador Dalí. the shy. I do not praise your halting adolescent brush. this is how I‘ll look when I die!’ – described in Stainton. which runs. Lorca wrote his poignant poem ‘Ode to Salvador Dalí’. virginal Dalí was twenty-one. Lorca told a friend that Dalí inspired in him the same pure emotion he felt in the presence of the baby Jesus. to be sure! Once. as well as Dalí’s own disembodied profile. I sing your restless longing for the statue.’ In March. features Lorca’s lifeless face superimposed onto the landscape in the lower-left section. the Residencia de Estudiantes. From their letters to one another there is no question that Lorca was in love with Dalí. and it seems also clear that Dalí reciprocated this love. 1926.’ He ‘referred to himself repeatedly as Lorca's “little son” and sent him drawings. ‘Another hug. your fear of the feelings that await you in the street. who was known to have been disgusted by Lorca’s sexuality. I sing your astronomical and tender heart. At the Residencia. where they were students. of the olive-coloured voice! I speak of what your person and your paintings tell me. Lorca was gay and twenty-five. your love of what might be made clear. but I sing the steady aim of your arrows. photographs. feigning rigor mortis and saying. He had also witnessed the poet throw himself onto the floor or onto a bed. 1998. 106 Leslie Stainton. p. Dalí had often heard Lorca refer to his own death. riding her bicycle of corals and conches. the only interesting man I've ever known. Lorca recalled.138 . correctly as it turned out. in Madrid. the Eiffel Tower. as geniuses. at least on an emotional level.In 1923. 105 This was undoubtedly a reference to Lorca’s habit of assuming the role of his own corpse.you. Lorca: A Dream of Life. a never-wounded deck of French cards. Their intense relationship lasted until they fell out in 1929. I sing the small sea-siren who sings to you. was released. collages. and even a florid valentine… stamped “My Beloved Darling. a week later he asked ‘Do you love me?’ For his part. Salvador Dalí met Federico Garcia Lorca at the university hostel. Dalí wrote to Lorca: ‘Don't fail to write to me . a hard act to follow. He included Lorca’s face in at least five canvases in the early years of their relationship.”’106 On another occasion he sent Lorca a postcard of that enduring phallic emblem. his face appears superimposed on several Dalí landscapes.

it hurt. The light that blinds our eyes is not art. and the Catholic Church continued to regard them as deviants of the worst sort’. ‘When I eventually realized my preference I came to understand that what I liked. It is a happy coincidence that Sebastian was also the patron saint of Stainton. because I wasn’t homosexual.. Besides. in the weeks following his visit [with the artist] to Cadaques.’ guilty of ‘paralysing all enterprises that I respect. adoring letters were a godsend.. and the focus of this creativity.139 Andre Breton. naturally enough. 4. This was not successful. Dutton & Co. with its subtext of martyrdom and (homosexual) suffering was. The lurid picture of poor. nearly fifty years later: He was homosexual.P. NY. He knew of Wilde’s destruction. 1992. 110 Staunton. p. Conversations with Dalí. But Lorca wanted more. accusing homosexuals of ‘mental and moral deficiency. as everyone knows.139. He tried to screw me twice. Saint Sebastian. but at some point Lorca tried to physically consummate the intense relationship he and Dalí had. p. Deep down. he had read Wilde’s De Profundis and his copy of the article was heavily annotated with his own thoughts on the tragedy. Surrealism and Abjection’ in Differences. he hinted at the depth of his attachment to ‘Salvadorcito’. and crazily in love with me.’ Lorca said. love-struck Lorca seems too narrow and one-sided an explanation. I was extremely annoyed. and I wasn’t interested in giving in. Ubu Classics.138 111 Alain Bosquet. Dalí reluctantly giving in to the rapacious. I felt that he was a great poet and that I did owe him a tiny bit of the Divine Dalí’s asshole.107 Both Lorca and Dalí would also have been aware of the fervently homophobic stance of the burgeoning Surrealist movement.110 Details are sketchy. for instance. was keen to be associated. 2003. was obsessively homophobic and he banned discussion of homosexuality at any Surrealist meetings. at least.111 A distance of half a century is certainly time enough to re-order the truth.108 Conscious of his homosexuality since early childhood. friendship. pp. put-upon. and in letters to their mutual friend Benjamin Palencia. as Dalí tells it.Through Palencia. Lorca was well aware of the dangers of declaring his homosexuality. a painter. Dalí had promised to send him a pair of his paintings. p.’109 To Lorca. 1969). the event proved to be a creative catalyst for both of them. Vol. ‘They will live in my house next to my heart. Rather it is love.But above all I sing a common thought that joins us in the dark and golden hours. he talked anxiously of his desire to see Dalí. 108 107 . to which Dalí. 109 Quoted in Staunton.19 (Original publication was by E. others thought perverse. But the Inquisition had persecuted homosexuals. So nothing came of it. Lorca recalled.. He was also aware of Spain’s severe views on homosexuality: ‘The Arabs who had settled in Andalusia had sanctioned it. But I felt awfully flattered vis-à-vis the prestige. In the summer of 1925. see Richard Easton’s ‘Canonical Criminalizations: Homosexuality Art History. particularly given the evidence of the correspondence between these two very close young men. Translated from the French by Joachim Neugroschel.’ For a detailed analysis of the deeply entrenched homophobia within the movement. [Dalí’s] extravagant. But whatever the circumstances.. and one senses that Dalí is rather glossing over the incident in order to re-establish hetero-cred. crossed swords.

1925. out of their depth in the murky waters of homosexuality. Dalí and Lorca at an amusement park.21 .Cadaqués. one that could easily be imbued with the idea of their own particular suffering: for Dalí. Figure 50. Edward Hirsch writes: The correspondence between Lorca and Dalí suggests a nervous awareness of the homoerotic and sadomasochistic aspects underlying Saint Sebastian’s martyrdom. The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration. as each tried to plead the case for and against homosexual consummation. conjuring as it does the image of trembling ingénues. and where he and Lorca had spent idyllic summer holidays. for Lorca the emotional pain of a longing that he stoically endured. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. which was somehow mixed up in their own…relationship to each other.’ and in a letter to Dalí. their agenda seems to have been more knowing and cathartically directed. Much was at stake both personally and aesthetically when they fenced over their competing images of the saint pierced by arrows. p. the quaint fishing village on the Costa Brava.112 We may feel that the rather timid ‘nervous awareness’ suggested by Hirsch seems too coy (not to mention heterocentric) a description. The saint became an equally identifiable icon for both of the young men. 2003. with which Dalí had fallen in love as a child. ‘Your Saint Sebastian. Lorca makes a coded reference to 112 Edward Hirsch. and from the works they created on this theme. From what the pair wrote to each other about the subject. Dalí sometimes signed letters to Lorca. the physical pain of being penetrated by a friend he needed emotionally but not physically.

I want to focus on this central motif. First. and this is the most 113 Staunton. reference is its resemblance to an anus. San Sebastian.sodomy: ‘Saint Sebastian’s arrows are made of steel. Your Saint Sebastian of ivory [sometimes translated as ‘marble’] contrasts with mine of flesh who is dying all the time.’ Even Dalí’s younger sister. 51). it has an undoubted visual reference to a target. 1927. Secondly. p. oblique. Lorca was not a natural draughtsman: six actual arrows. six more-simplified arrows. Federico Garcia Lorca. Dalí told him. it appears in the position of a pursed.we’ll see if Saint Sebastian turns out to be you. kissing mouth under Sebastian’s eye. which he published in the Catalan journal. and I see them as long…at the moment of the wound. unlike Dalí. ‘but the difference between you and me is that you see them as firmly fixed and robust. L’Amic de les Art. Cocteauesque image of the beleaguered saint has been reduced to its most elemental parts.. and that’s how it must be. Consider the drawing that Lorca made in 1927 (fig. short arrows that can’t come undone..’113 Dalí wrote a long prose-poem about the saint. mainly due to the fact that.’ he wrote. . Ana Marie. The stylised. which has three possible readings. which suggest something of a jaw-line. framed by the dark entry-points of the arrows (made by bleeding the penpoint into the paper). india ink on paper. and which he dedicated to Lorca. and sometimes I think he is you.170. But the third. Here. a single eye and a central target shape. exhorting Lorca not to show the postcard she had sent him to ‘Saint Sebastian. ‘In my “Saint Sebastian” I remember you. was in on the pair’s secret.’ Figure 51.

there are both ‘functional’ arrows and ‘suggestive’ arrows: a small pictogram arrow sits at shoulder level. a halo. tilted back at a jaunty angle. the upper arrows represent a more generalised idea of ‘arrow’. It appears to be wearing a hat or. Bucknell University Press. Another drawing. Federico Garcia Lorca. 1995. embodied here in this sparse psychosexual drawing. his own. Ecce Homo. Didn’t you ever think how strange it is that his ass doesn’t have a single wound?’114 There are twelve arrows altogether in the drawing. more likely. Cavanaugh. Traditionally. which Lorca made in the same year. Tears fall from the eye. ed. As in the previous image. Seemingly free-standing and erect. Swan Isle Press. continues the theme. but here Lorca has swapped one martyr for another. Ecce Homo (fig. another arrow is picked 114 Christopher Maurer. Chicago. but missing its mark. which are matched by the scattered blotches of ink/blood. Consider the following: ‘[how well] tied he was to the column and how solid his back was. Figure 52.22 115 Cecilia J. Again he has focussed on the head. p. Lorca's Drawings and Poems: Forming the Eye of the Reader.appropriate. phallic arrows retain their functionality. Reading only Sebastian’s face in the image. Sebastian’s Arrows: Letters and Mementos of Salvador Dalí and Federico Garcia Lorca. works of art entitled Ecce Homo have depicted a tethered Christ standing before Pontius Pilate. Cecilia Cavanaugh writes that ‘the simplicity of the eye/mouth configuration is as gripping and eloquent as any other painting of this suffering victim. 1927. pointing diagonally upwards to a blotch. given specific taunting comments that Dalí had made in letters to Lorca about the unattainable Sebastian’s and by extension.’115 But much more eloquent is the image of Lorca’s and Dalí’s own personal suffering. which we see fractured and in profile. 2004. but only the arrows pointing upwards are accorded feathers.. 52). each pointing up towards the target/anus and each coming close.59 . and trans. p. the lower six.

116 The surrealist in Dalí was undoubtedly attracted to the bizarre conjoining of the varying signifiers within the image because he recycled it a number of times within his paintings over the years. bare-chested. 1926. and it also appeared on the invitation to his exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery. Figure 53. situated as it is. complete with feathers. The most important arrow. The illustration had originally advertised ‘Sor Virginia’ poultices and featured a moustachioed. an open wound. New York. 53). The medicinal intention of the original image imbued Dalí’s new version with a promise/threat of wellness/sickness and neatly encapsulated the physical and psychological predicament in which he found himself. in 1934. and with these additions. at the top of the drawing. newspaper collage on a letter to Lorca.116 Dalí drew a halo about the figure’s head and wrote ‘San Sebastian’ next to his right thigh. Salvador Dalí. he-man type with rolled up trouser legs. which is intriguingly marked with the measures one-to-six inches. San Sebastian. like a curled ruler. dominates the drawing. this is a thought-arrow of longing. But. .out in dots and points towards the ear. and has found its mark. the once-nonchalant. swathed in the product. On page one of a several-page letter to Lorca (fig. arms-behind-the-back. It is positioned obliquely. Dalí included a newspaper collage. well above the head. pose now had the sinister reading of his being tethered to a post.

Both of these feature a landscape reminiscent of that in Sodoma’s painting. signifying the secretive nature of the image for Dalí as well as an indication of how he had grappled with its personalised meaning. from 1939 (fig. 1939. it is suggestive of the martyr’s blood as it runs down the centre of the paper. Salvador Dalí. upon which is superimposed a double image of naked Sebastian. the tree in the 1946 image is almost identical in position and formation to Sodoma’s tree. Project for a Theatre Setting based on the Myth of San Sebastian. we see a seven-tier tower of boxes. A faceless figure turns a key in one of the locks. as thoughts of his relationship with the poet resurfaced. 55). the enduring image of Sebastian recurred at intervals throughout his career. In Project for a Theatre Setting based on the Myth of San Sebastian. the extravagantly plumed arrows emphasise the general louche . but it is unclear whether he is revealing the secret or locking it securely away. Dalí made two ink sketches of the saint in the 1940s.Figure 53. indeed. Dalí has allowed a runnel of ink to describe the left side of the saint’s body.54). Each box has a lock and key. androgyne. Sebastian is depicted as an attenuated. In the earlier image (fig. For Dalí. 53). one on each visible side of the stack. as did images of Lorca himself. Broken arrows stud the sides of the boxes and blood trickles down the sides to pool on the ground. In this picture (fig.

Saint Sebastian. Figure 55. Figure 56.Figure 54. even the identifying. the once male figure (now penetrated) exists as neither male nor female. 1946. in an example of dark synchronicity. Lorca was arrested in 1936. Salvador Dalí. which we may read as self-referential. and shot by members of Spain’s fascist Falange movement. whose black and red flag. Salvador Dalí. featured a brace of arrows (fig 56). with his Spanish machismo. effect of the picture. 1942. For Dalí. Flag of Spain’s fascist Falange movement . engendering facial features have been blotted out with ink. In this image. Saint Sebastian Pierced by Arrows. Dalí encapsulates his heterosexual anxiety about Lorca’s sexual advances.

Tennessee Williams’ Plays: Memory. the emperor who had ordered his execution. whether this rough-trade Sebastian is really suitable for entry into heaven. and Symbol. releases its "sweet. Even Mary from Her tower of heaven leaned a little down and as she leaned. privately. Myth. leaning from her tower of heaven. Unlike Sodoma. How did Saint Sebastian die? Arrows pierced his throat and thigh which only knew. In his poem. Sebastian is also pierced with phallic arrows in "throat and thigh. Thompson. At the end of the poem. generally. Williams took to homosexual guilt as a pig to truffles. Near above him. New York: Peter Lang.18). The poem's St. as the title tells us. intemperate wine. Mary. Sebastian with the sexual acts of fellatio and sodomy. that Sebastian was the lover of Diocletian.117 Williams was ambivalent about his homosexuality. when pierced in an erotic act." In the poem's climax. took as its inspiration Sodoma’s painting discussed above (fig. the dolors of a concubine. This version of events lent the story a subtext of bitchy gay powerplay. 1989. p. She raised a corner of a cloud through which to spy. before that time. all the golden bells of heaven praised an emperor's concubine. Williams equates the martyrdom of St. hardly over." as Mary plays the role of voyeur. which had been steadily gaining popularity amongst gay aesthetes. Williams seems to have become fixated on the image and upon the legend." which. intemperate wine. dropped a tiny flower but. hovered his gold martyr's crown. namely. Williams wonders (along with the mother of God). he clearly regarded the boy/saint as potential trouble. San Sebastiano de Sodoma.‘Cut this hideous story out of her brain’ In 1948 Tennessee Williams wrote the poem. she must have wondered if it were indeed wise to let this boy in Paradise? Having identified Sodoma’s Sebastian as gay." a profane analog to the communal rite. as were the majority of gay men in the 1940s. 104 . seeing himself dragged involuntarily to some lower depths…’deviant satyriasis’ was the accusatory phrase he used to describe his own 117 Judith J. Sweetly troubled Mary murmured as She watched the arrows fly. which. The saint’s role as gay martyr was of particular significance to him. And as the cup that was profaned gave up its sweet. Williams chose to adhere to the re-imagining of the legend. the Eucharistic chalice becomes the desecrated anal "cup. raising "a corner / of a cloud through which to spy.

As if they'd torn or cut parts of him away with their hands.. Williams himself suffered from depression for much of his adult life. Violet Venable (Hepburn). it becomes apparent that the gay Sebastian had regularly used first his mother. p. There are themes of mental instability and neurosis throughout his work.78 120 Steven Bruhm.. later becoming addicted to alcohol. No. destructive heterosexual marriages (Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). Sebastian. pagan death. the beach. was ‘named for Sebastian's name saint. and later his attractive cousin. they are brutally murdered (Sebastian in Suddenly Last Summer). on a Mexican beach.120 118 119 Nicholas de Jonghe. he wrote the play. As the film progresses. melodramatic effect. p. or those jagged tin cans they made music with. and which played out aspects of the martyr story to heightened.’ which causes the collapse of reason. to lure heterosexual boys for sex. 1991.34. ’mutually consumptive bond between men. Williams’ personal interest in Saint Sebastian was abiding. speaking of her niece. Katherine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor. 1976. they commit suicide upon discovery of their guilty secret (Blanche’s off-stage husband in A Streetcar Named Desire). in a chillingly vicious moment. whose mysterious death she has witnessed. Dr. an hysterical Catherine tells the doctor about Sebastian’s fantastic. In 1959. Catherine says. p.La Playa San Sebastian. itself] a transgressive. Suddenly Last Summer (1958). unspeakable secret that Violet Venable wants to stifle forever. the gay men who appear in his plays are closeted and tortured by their sexuality. which had as its central (though unseen) character. amphetamines and barbiturates. or with knives. ‘Suddenly Last Summer’.95 Tennessee Williams. 1992.. at the hands of street boys: He…he was… lying naked on the broken stones. it was made into a film.’ In the denouement. thereby rating his sexual desires with the bestial and demonic. nobody. In the early scenes. ‘Blackmailed by Sex: Tennessee Williams and the Economics of Desire’ in Modern Drama. Catherine (Taylor). Routledge.and this you won't believe! Nobody.. who is spreading scandalous rumours about her dead son. in Tennessee Williams: Four Plays.118 Similarly. a decadent poet named Sebastian Venable.’119 Williams uses the notion of cannibalism as a ‘trope for the social anxiety surrounding homosexuality [which is.sexual activities as a young man. John Cukrowicz (Clift) to her home to persuade him to perform a lobotomy on her troubled niece. nobody could believe it! It looked as if…as if they had devoured him!.. directed by Joseph Mankiewicz and starring Montgomery Clift. has summoned the psychiatrist. New York: Penguin. she implores the psychiatrist to ‘cut this hideous story out of her brain. they enter into unsatisfactory. As if they'd torn bits of him away and stuffed them into those gobbling mouths! There wasn’t a sound anymore…there was nothing but Sebastian…Sebastian lying on those stones…torn and crushed! Williams directs the audience to draw a parallel between Saint Sebastian and the dead Venable. formidable Southern matriarch. This is the dreadful. a decade after penning the Sodoma poem.533 . Not in Front of the Audience: Homosexuality on Stage..

In her essay, ‘Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer and Euripides’ Bacchae,’ Janice Siegel finds links between the two plays:
Suddenly Last Summer resonates strongly with many of the themes and plot details of Euripides' Bacchae. Much of the action in both plays turns on the consequences of a perverse sexuality born of repression (manifested among other ways as a disturbing sexual connection between mother and son). Other shared themes include the son's search for a god he sees as a Destroyer, the irresistible pull of eros, the consequences of the psychological fragmentation of an individual, the struggle between those who seek to reveal truth and those who are determined to conceal it, and the participation of a mother in the destruction of her own child. Each male protagonist is pursued, ripped apart, and consumed by the members of a community he sexually infiltrated. The truth about each sparagmos (rending) and omophagia (raw-eating) is uncovered in similar scenes between “psychotherapist” and amnesia victim.121

Williams wrote the play at a time when he was undergoing, as were a great many well-heeled gay men, intensive Freudian psychoanalysis. His analyst had suggested that Williams separate from his lover, Frank Merlo, and get married in order ‘to attempt a heterosexual life.’122 If the notion of a prefrontal lobotomy, performed merely in order to stifle free speech and thought seems outlandish today, it should be remembered that this operation was regularly performed, from the early 1930s into the 1960s, on a wide-range of recipients, ranging from rebellious teenagers to the genuinely mentally ill. In fact, Williams’ sister Rose, diagnosed as schizophrenic at the age of twenty-six, was given a lobotomy; this resulted in her being permanently institutionalised until her death, in 1996, at the age of eighty-seven.123 Homosexuals were also routinely operated on in this fashion; it was less than forty years ago (1973) that the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its Diagnostic Manual of mental illness. In fact, a wide range of ‘cures’ for the ‘abnormality’ of homosexuality were eagerly pursued by the psychiatric profession.
Electroshock and pharmacologically induced shock treatments were used on homosexual patients in state hospitals and private psychiatric clinics from the 1940s through the 1960s. One common routine was to tamper with the conditioned reflex of individual male patients by showing them slides of sexy men followed by nausea-inducing drugs and then by administering testosterone before showing slides of sexy women. Other experiments included inducing anxiety about homosexuality in a patient while reducing or ‘desensitizing’ anxiety about heterosexuality. Such treatments, on the whole, were unsuccessful in ending homosexual orientation or desire.124

121 Janice Siegel, ‘Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer and Euripides’ Bacchae’ in International Journal of the Classical Tradition, Vol. 11, No. 4 / December, 2005, Springer, Netherlands. 122 De Jonghe, p.79 123 Williams was forever haunted by his sister’s fate. Versions of Rose appear in several of his plays. At the time of her lobotomy, Williams wrote the following blank verse in his journal: ‘Grand, God be with you. / A chord breaking. / 1000 miles away. / Rose. Her head cut open. / A knife thrust in her brain. / Me. Here. Smoking. / My father, mean as a devil, snoring – 1000 miles away.’ 124 Jennifer Terry, An American Obsession: Science, Medicine, and Homosexuality in Modern Society, University of Chicago Press, 1999, n. 31, p.470

A cursory glance through the American medical literature from this period will provide ample evidence of the cavalier, even reckless, treatment of gay men at the hands of science. Consider the following few examples: Samuel Liebman’s, ‘Homosexuality, Transvestism, and Psychosis: Study of a Case Treated with Electroshock,’ in Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 99, 6 (1944); Joseph W. Friedlander and Ralph S. Banay’s, ‘Psychosis Following Lobotomy in a Case of Sexual Psychopathology,’ in Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry 59 (1948); J. Srnec and K. Freund’s, ‘Treatment of Male Homosexuality through Conditioning’ in International Journal of Sexology, no. 2 (1953); Moses Zlotlow and Albert E. Paganini’s, ‘Autoerotic and Homoerotic Manifestations in Hospitalized Male Postlobotomy (sic) Patients,’ in Psychiatric Quarterly 33, 3 (1959); Michael M. Miller’s, ‘Hypnotic-Aversion Treatment of Homosexual Behavior,’ in Psychological Reports 26, no. 2 (1970). Commenting on this shameful period, Warren Johansson and William A. Percy write:
The emergence during the late nineteenth century of the medical concept of sexual inversion – supposedly more scientific and objective than the clerical concept of sodomy – meant only that instead of prison…families could have homosexuals subjected to indefinite confinement in asylums, with electroshock, prefrontal lobotomy, castration, and other forms of ‘treatment’ recommended by physicians or psychoanalysts. Supposedly all this was not only for the good of the patients but also to keep them from infecting society with their degeneracy.125

It is precisely this ‘degeneracy’ that Williams, who was never to be totally at ease with his sexuality, in a spirit of self-loathing, ascribes to Sebastian Venable. To return to the film version of Suddenly Last Summer, again in the early scenes: Mrs. Venable ushers Dr Cukrowicz into Sebastian’s study, from the hothouse garden of primordial, carnivorous plants. The book-filled study is crammed with the signifying tropes of the 1940s gay aesthete: a framed drawing of the back of a male nude; a mid-size canvas of a brooding dark male figure; a small Greek statue of a male torso; various theatrical masks. On the back wall is a full-length, life-size replica of Botticelli’s Saint Sebastian (fig. 57), of which only the bottom third can be seen. Reminiscing, Mrs.Venable tells the doctor, ‘He would sit in his chair, I in mine, at five o’clock every day and we would have our daiquiris with Saint Sebastian brooding above us.’126


Warren Johansson and William A. Percy, Outing: Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence, Haworth Press, 1994,

126 In the BBC production of the play (1993), which stars Maggie Smith as Mrs. Venable, it is Reni’s Sebastian (the one in Genoa; Wilde’s favourite) that graces the wall.

Figure 57. Sandro Botticelli, Saint Sebastian, 1447.

The gay (but closeted) American writer/photographer, Carl Van Vechten made several works on the theme of Saint Sebastian in the 1940s. In Male Model (St Sebastian) (fig. 58), we are presented with a very artificial image. The arrows in this ‘art’ photograph are as ineffective as those in the Holland Day image discussed above. The model stands in front of a tawdry, ‘theatrical’ silver-foil backdrop and holds three arrows in place by tightly clamping them against his body, under his arm and between his thighs. His wrists are tied behind his back and he looks up to the ceiling with something like resignation. The mood and effect of the photograph is rather listless; the image has none of the violent energy or vigour usually associated with images of the saint; indeed, one wonders what exactly Van Vechten was hoping to convey because even the potential erotic charge is numbed by the mundane setup. It is in a second work, made during the same session, with the same model, that Van Vechten’s full intention is made clear. The image appears in one of twenty scrapbooks that the photographer kept for the private consumption of himself and his gay friends. These scrapbooks reveal an arch, camp sensibility. They contain his own photographs as well as images culled from magazines and newspapers, and snipped-out text. Images of beautiful naked black men jockey with homophobic newspaper articles; pornographic images, such as a young man engaging in auto-fellatio, sit next to images of ancient Greek statuary; publicity photographs of closeted gay Hollywood stars or King Farouk of Egypt were teamed with

late-1940s. silver gelatin photograph. late-1940s. Carl Van Vechten. . Carl Van Vechten. untitled photographic collage.Figure 58. Male Model (St Sebastian). Figure 59.

male has been reversed. One day. he falls to the ground.127 In a double-page spread within one of the scrapbooks. 28 130 Jerry S. Indeed. N. who struggles with his homosexuality and grows up isolated.Y. in 1948. smiling actor.” which hangs in the collection of the Palazzo Rosso at 127 Rock Hudson was one such actor to receive this treatment in the scrapbooks (years before the general public’s reluctant acceptance of his homosexuality). p. Greenwood Publishing Group. pools of blood. There was an unspeakable delight in having been shot and being on the point of death. 128 Yukio Mishima. The Madness and Perversion of Yukio Mishima. as a child he ‘delighted in imagining situations in which [he] was dying in battle or being murdered.129 As his sexuality begins to find focus he notices that he is erotically attracted to the male bodies he sees on the beach. he forms a romantic interest in knights and chivalry. trans. enraptured with the vision of my own form lying there. Confessions of a Mask. Under the text ‘gay young blades!’ is an image of the wholesome. Piven.41 . scenes of samurai cutting open their bellies and soldiers struck by bullets. which affords a better view of his half-erect penis (known as a ‘Hollywood loaf’ in the gay slang of the period). Born Kimitaka Hiraoka. holding a sword. the promise of substantial tumescence is continuously underscored. In this version. Sebastian’s role has been subverted and his usual position as a penetrated. marked with thirty-four centimetres is pasted opposite the image. ‘A fate that might be called shining’ Yukio Mishima was twenty-three when he wrote Confessions of a Mask. p. Early on. ‘MEAT: the yardstick / BIG INCH / Luxuriously Soft – Dependably Strong / What a Dish’. 59). above which is the text.: New Directions. In the photograph. In a conflation of sex and consumerism. 1958. Two of the arrows are lodged on either side of the model’s genitals. we are presented with a chest-to-knee close-up of the model. Sebastian. Later. Van Vechten has pasted text which once described food and toilet tissue around the image. he used the nom de plume Mishima so that his antiliterary father would not know that he wrote. in his father’s study. and muscular flesh. lest we be in any doubt of the meaning of the work. Here. pp. reiterating the full erection to come and.’128 Playing a war game with some schoolgirl friends. we find the ‘private’ version of the Sebastian photograph (fig. The autobiographical novel concerns the adolescence of a boy. an entire ruler. he finds some art books and by chance comes across ‘a reproduction of Guido Reni’s “St. he ‘becomes erect imagining death. these he guiltily hides. next to this is pasted a grinning model in a string vest. the accoutrements of his sacrifice have become merely titillating props that propose his well-endowed (homo) sexual prowess. perhaps even disturbed. twisted and fallen.38-41 129 Ibid. Meredith Weatherby.unconnected newspaper headlines which ‘out’ them.’130 He spends his afternoons making detailed gory crayon drawings of circus performers who have been shot. or have fallen from a tightrope. the whole collage is a size-queen’s delight. 2004. and thereby ‘feminised’. ‘SEXY SIGNOR / gay Italian pro / For Men Only’. this interest gradually becomes conflated with fantasies of death and sadomasochism.

on one corner of the dictionary…Fortunately. imagining that the tree he saw outside his schoolroom window might be ‘the very tree…to which the young saint was bound with his hands behind him. Lifton. bringing with it a blinding intoxication…Some time passed…I looked around the desk. In a long. on a shoulder of the ink bottle. There were cloudy-white splashes about – on the gold-imprinted title of a textbook. American Psychiatric Mishima. the instant I looked at the picture. began a motion they had never been taught. pp. resulting in his first ejaculation. The Broken Connection: on Death and the Continuity of Life. youthful flesh and are about to consume his body from within with flames of supreme agony and ecstasy…That day. 43 Publishing. radiant something rise swiftfooted to the attack from inside me. upbraiding me for my ignorance.’ The painting stirs a powerful erotic sensation in the twelve-year-old. American psychiatrist Robert J. Sebastian’s martyrdom remained a central or ‘controlling’ image for Mishima from that time onward…It is not too much to say that from his first encounter with the image. personal assertion that ‘the inverted and the sadistic impulses are inextricably entangled with each other. but some flicker of melancholy pleasure like music…The arrows have eaten into the tense.Genoa.’ He then makes a specific. Lifton states that: St.’134 He goes on to speculate that while Sebastian was a young captain in the Praetorian guard. How could the women have failed to hear the 131 132 Mishima. I felt a secret. Mishima became obsessed. My hands. a reflex motion of my hand to protect the picture had saved the book from being soiled. my loins swelled as though in wrath. his tense abdomen.’133 A few years after the incident in his father’s study. Mishima wrote a prose poem about the saint. and the thongs binding his wrists were tied to the tree…His white and matchless nudity gleams against a background of dusk…It is not pain that hovers about his straining chest. my entire being trembled with some pagan joy…My blood soared up. 267 133 134 .131 From this pivotal moment. His blood ‘was coursing with [a] fiercer pace…watching for an opening from which to spurt forth when that flesh would soon be torn asunder.38-41 Robert J. p. for he follows his description with an observation that ‘it is an interesting coincidence that Hirschfeld should place “pictures of St. Sebastian. descriptive passage he describes the incident: A remarkably handsome youth was bound naked to the trunk of a tree. His crossed hands were raised high. completely unconsciously. p.’132 Mishima realised the nature of his homosexual reading of the painting. over the trunk of which his sacred blood trickled like driblets after a rain. Suddenly it burst forth. fragrant. Sebastian” in the first rank of those kinds of art works in which the invert takes special delight. 41 Ibid. The monstrous part of me that was on the point of bursting awaited my use of it with unprecedented ardour. In his romance with the saint we sense his hunger for death imagery as a demonic source of imagination and vitality. the ‘robust women of Rome’ must have sensed a beauty such as his was a thing destined for death. 1996. panting indignantly. Mishima became and never ceased to be himself a version of St. p. his slightly contorted hips.

He wonders how the women can be unaware of his tempestuous (i. whose occasionally exposed armpits are a thrilling event. 2005. healthy. It his case. focussing on specific areas of the body. answering the victim cry for cry…my imagination slaughtered many princes of savage tribes. Mishima forms a crush on an older boy called Omi. These two openings.137 Early in the novel. waiters. army officers…I would kiss the lips of those who had fallen to the ground and were still moving. as a child. constant ingredient of every gay man’s experience within the heteronormative world. waits to ‘spurt forth’. without so much as a pale shadow of Sebastian’s abundant beauty. 273 137 Rowland Wymer. heterosexual) women regard his beauty (his true nature). pathetic cries…my own shout of exultation. Derek Jarman. it was the exposed armpits that galvanise him. I had acquired the unconscious habit of crossing my arms over my head whenever I happened to be undressed.e.45 . young toughs. Mishima’s erotic imagination became inextricably meshed with violence and. hotel elevator-boys. in a vivid conflation of eros and thanatos. they know it. p. 2002. Ever since becoming obsessed with the picture of St Sebastian. The robust (i. And a mysterious sexual desire boiled up within me… 135 136 Ibid. tufted with the hair which signifies sexual maturity. Giants of Japan: The Lives of Japan's Most Influential Men and Women. Mondale. Manchester University Press. ‘unnatural’) desires. p.e. and he knows it. But now once more I spontaneously fell into the pose. Young Roman gladiators offered up their lives for my amusement…[with] mournful. But Mishima/Sebastian also feels (gay) pride in his state of being. It is unattainable and the penalty for this is his inevitable death.’135 This passage contains several important elements of Mishima’s homosexual identification with the saint.’ an apartness which is the inherent.136 It comes as no surprise that in reality. Mishima tapped into the same aspects of feminised images of Sebastian and mediaeval Christ discussed earlier. when he writes about these formative years.tempestuous desires of blood such as this? His was not a fate to be pitied… Rather was it proud and tragic. 45-46 Quoted in Mark Weston and Walter F. Mine was a pale body. p.’ This ‘martyrdom’ is a symbol of his ‘apartness from ordinary men. are an obvious way of feminising the male body. but he fetishised the image. Kodansha America. a fate that might even be called shining…it was nothing less than martyrdom which lay in wait for him along the way…this brand which Fate had set upon him was precisely the token of his apartness from all ordinary men of earth. in so doing. Mishima felt himself to be scrawny and weak and that he later embarked upon a fifteen-year regimen of daily body-building to permanently remove that stigma. The physical perfection of the Reni Sebastian struck a chord with him. his difference is a ‘fate that might even be called shining. we may detect the dominationfantasies of a young boy who feels powerless. As I did so my eyes went to my armpits. giving it further orifices which can be penetrated. even his very blood knows it and.

’ Mishima gazes at the ‘black tufts [that] stuck out from the cracks of his armpits’ (tufts which are absent in the original depilated image). and getting into a fight with a rival gang. 88 Ibid. but undoubtedly there. and brought back here. There is no doubt that Omi himself was involved in my sexual desire. there in my armpits. In 1967. the first sprouts of black thickets. p. fully developed and tensely knit. more specifically. Mishima underwent basic training in the Japan Self-Defence Forces. In this long descriptive passage. with coarse but regular and swarthy features. He had spent a lifetime fetishising the Reni painting.’ Taking the Sebastian metaphor to its inevitable conclusion. arch-conservative.139 In 1968. it had accreted into the cornerstone of his own brand of right-wing nationalism and his personalised philosophy of power through endurance. He imagines the boy getting into a fight and constructs a fantasy about his violent death. A year later he formed the Tatenokai (Shield Society). pp. Confessions of a Mask showed the difficulties of growing up gay and the necessity of adopting disguises (the mask of the title) to hide one’s true nature in a society hostile to that nature. as Reni’s Genoa Sebastian. This was as true for Mishima in the 1940s as it had been for Wilde a hundred years before. Mishima. a married homosexual in anti-homosexual. Of that soiled belly-band beautifully dyed with blood. Mishima had himself photographed by Kishin Shinoyama in the role of Sebastian (fig. half-naked. Mishima visits a dance hall where he becomes transfixed by a tough youth.138 In the climactic scenes of Confessions of a Mask. manned 138 139 Mishima. as the imagery is virtually interchangeable: The youth is ‘twenty-one or-two. his private militia. four-hundred years before that. Of his gory corpse being put on an improvised stretcher. As in the Reni painting.’ so that a ‘strange shudder ran through [his] innermost heart. 58) and.Summer had come and. Here then was the point of similarity with Omi that my purposes required. Mishima can only think of one thing: Of his going out into the streets of high summer just as he was. muscular neck. and as it had been for Sodoma. at which sight. Mishima could almost be reliving his erotic encounter with the Sebastian painting. with it. which had so transported him as a twelve-year-old boy In this beautiful. Of a sharp dagger cutting through that belly-band. tradition-bound Japan. he is ‘beset by sexual desire’. a deep cleft ran down between the solid muscles of his chest towards his abdomen. not the equal of Omi’s it is true. 252-253 . He had taken off his shirt and stood there half naked…His naked chest showed bulging muscles. this youth also threw back his head so that Mishima could see ‘his thick. was eminently placed to perceive of himself as sacrificial victim. piercing that torso. but neither could it be denied that this desire was directed mainly towards my own armpits. made of a window shutter. dream-like photograph we are presented Mishima-as-Sebastian-as-martyr.

like Sebastian himself. Gay men were presenting with unusual opportunistic infections and rare cancers. inevitably. 1968 mainly by university students.140 His body was then beheaded with a samurai sword by his second-in-command. five Tatenokai members briefly took over the Defence Forces headquarters and attempted to rally the soldiers in a coup d’etat so that imperial rule could once again be established. The illness became known as GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency). As the disease quickly spread through the major gay centres of the east and west coast of America. In death. In November. Mishima as St Sebastian. but it quickly became obvious that all the men were suffering from a common syndrome. of reality and fantasy. an unknown disease was identified in New York and San Francisco. silver gelatine print. of fact and fiction. 1970. Mishima had ‘become’ Reni’s St Sebastian. Seppuku was historically reserved for samurai and was thought to be a noble death.Figure 58. . It seemed stubbornly resistant to any treatment. In 1981. Kishin Shinoyama. such as Kaposi’s sarcoma. rightful place as an intercessor against plague. this failed Mishima committed ritual suicide by seppuku. Pelting season It was in the 1980s that Saint Sebastian resumed his original. When. there was a widely 140 Seppuku is ritual suicide by disembowelling. the most common form of which is harakiri. it could be said that. his entire life had been moving inexorably closer to this merging of life and art.

beards and moustaches became de rigueur everyday-wear for a certain sub-set of gay men within large cities. Ronald Regan made his first speech to the nation about the problem but by then over 20. When the first ‘innocent’ (read heterosexual. fuck houses.220 .expressed view from the general public. as all blood is tested. since the 1970s. establishments offering varied facilities and degrees of comfort and luxury. the disease was still firmly believed to be associated with homosexuals. as gay men began consciously to adopt the attributes normally associated with straight men. or in couples or in multiples. p. back-room bars. But this was a period when homosexuals were no longer content to live furtively in the shadows. but it also suggests cruising haunts. which was intrinsically self-regulated by the notion of monogamy and the family. but all of them having one purpose: sex. cropped hair. 141 Jerry Falwell. lumberjack shirts. called AIDS a ‘blessing from God’. sex for its own sake. sex for pleasure.141 When cases of HIV infection began occurring in people other than gay men this led to a change in the name of the disease from GRID to AIDS. Their fear is that AIDS-contaminated blood may enter into the blood bank. for example. AIDS was the clear ‘proof’ they were looking for that they had been right all along. sex in isolation.142 Had gay men stuck to the ‘rules’ and remained hidden. Routledge. The proliferation of gay saunas and bath houses.143 The notion of sex purely for hedonistic pleasure. Their stance seems to be predicated on the false assumption that all gay men are promiscuous. but they were rejoicing in their lives as never before. that this was a sign from God. without the attached burden of procreation. was particular abhorrent to those who espoused Christian ‘morality’ and ‘family values’. Not only were they a clear and open presence on the streets of major cities. It was through sex that the gay community of large cities identified itself and separated itself from its heterosexual counterparts. No such ban has been yet levied at heterosexual donors. meeting places and most insistently during the 1970s the proliferating growth of bath houses. reached over 50 million viewers every week. 142 This irrational (and homophobic) fear holds true even today. boots. has a long-standing ban on gay men donating blood. There was another problem for the straight watchdogs. 143 Jeffrey Weeks. 1985. these abnormal. ‘Old Time Gospel Hour’. Even so. Myths. Many gay men of this period viewed sexual promiscuity as a political act which allowed them to reject the heterosexual model and separated them from the restrictions of heteronormativity. The next to suffer the ravages of the illness were (predominantly) Hispanic and African American intravenous drug users. in the general public’s mind. and from church and state alike. The Red Cross. even though the spread of AIDS is now most prevalent in heterosexuals. Promiscuity implies a frequent change of partners. any virus would be detected before use. Falwell’s television program. but in any case. and Modern Sexualities. white) victims were reported. always quick to lay most of society’s faults squarely on the gay and lesbian community. had become a subject of deep concern to the straight community. detached from all conventional ties and responsibilities. immoral people only had themselves to blame. Sexuality and Its Discontents: Meanings. it was becoming harder to identify who was gay and who was straight. leader of the misnamed ‘Moral Majority’.000 ‘guilty’ (read gay or drug user) Americans had died. In the 1970s and through the 1980s. thereby undermining the very idea of masculinity itself. the whole unpleasant business of their way of life (and now their way of death) could have been ignored. and this tapped into deep-seated fears and prejudices about the essential ‘dirtiness’ of homosexuals.

Gender roles are crucially defined in terms of heterosexuality – ‘men’. Fuck You Faggot Fucker (1984).167 . in their own way. By taking the signs of masculinity and eroticizing them in a blatantly homosexual context. Keith Haring died in 1990. Both artists made work featuring Saint Sebastian and for both artists the saint stood for personal. The lives of both were cut short by the disease. as a social category. sexual martyrdom.Sebastian (fig. as can be adduced by such painting titles as. as do the ‘Steamboat Willy’ alarm lines that radiate from his head under the yellow moon/halo. are people who screw ‘women’. is bedevilled by passenger planes. tethered to a tree. aged thirty-one. As the disease ravaged the east and west coast of the United States. a redskinned Sebastian. Routledge. Wojnarowicz’s work. is neatly summed up by Homer. and by which their power is secured. muscular beerdrinker turns out to be a pansy. had a militant edge. Their sexuality was a natural element within their work. which is still felt by many straight men. 2002. jet-setting gay artist. much mischief is done to the security with which ‘men’ are defined in society. David Wojnarowicz died in 1992. 144 Richard Dyer. however are you going to know the ‘real’ men any more?144 In an episode of The Simpsons. but as things became grim they each. two young New York artists included AIDS as a subject in their work. the saint now evokes a personal set of hedonistic tribulations. openness and sexual freedom available to out gay men in the 80s. The distorted face (a sort of graphic. this confusion. sub-Guernica affair) bespeaks his anguish. in particular. ‘Only Entertainment’ in Over the Rainbow. which pierce his torso. aged thirty-seven. That this is a (homo)sexual martyrdom is clear. 59). If that bearded. became art-activists against government policy. They had both eagerly embraced the new optimism. and made works that directly challenged prevailing misconceptions. and my homosexuals flaming!’ This pervading ‘confusion’ initially operated as a useful tool in breaking down stereotypes. amusingly entitled ‘Homer’s Phobia’. who complains to Marge: ‘I like my beer cold. the pleasure and pain of the well-heeled. my TV loud. due to the trembling erection sported by the distorted figure. homophobia and ignorance. p. The essentially sado-masochistic nature of Sebastian has here been updated to the twentieth-century. until the macho dress-code became a clichéd gay stereotype in itself and largely disappeared. In Haring’s St.

Wojnarowicz portends Hujar’s illness. poster. Wojnarowicz was a much more polemical artist than Haring. David Wojnarowicz in a still From Rosa Von Praunheim’s film. Peter Hujar Dreaming/Yukio Mishima: St Sebastian (fig. Taking the pain of martyrdom quite literally. Keith Haring. 60). he appears in Rosa Von Praunheim’s gritty documentary about attitudes to AIDS. sewing his lips shut (fig. delirious and emaciated. Silence = Death (1990). Silence = Death (1990). In his 1982 painting.Figure 59. Saint Sebastian. 1984. . 61). Hujar was diagnosed with the disease in 1987 and two years later Wojnarowicz photographed him. featuring his lover. the photographer Peter Hujar. on his Figure 60.

Figure 60. 1982. Sebastian. 1989. Peter Hujar Dreaming/Yukio Mishima: St. Untitled (Peter Hujar).Figure 59. David Wojnarowicz. . David Wojnarowicz.

1989. Each of the works on display had the message: ‘There is no place on this planet more horrible than a fox farm during pelting season’ written upon its surface. 61). In the exhibition’s catalogue essay. 145 Thomas McEvilly. gay dream. we see the optimistic. catalogue essay for Julian Schnabel’s exhibition. Julian Schnabel.Y. Schnabel had apparently found the message scrawled in red ink on a ten-dollar note he had received as change.145 One painting from the exhibition has particular Figure 61. Fox Farm Painting (St. with its self-conscious reference to the gay icons. In the space of seven years between these images. the gay nightmare of disease. Another New York artist. commented on the AIDS crisis within his 1989 exhibition entitled: ‘Fox Farm Paintings’. Thomas McEvilly suggests that the works constitute the artist's ‘way of coming to terms with AIDS and the pollution of the planet’ (as if either of these catastrophes were not a sufficient subject for an exhibition. Sebastian) 1989.. ‘Fox Farm Paintings’.deathbed (fig. hopeful. Julian Schnabel. Mishima and Sebastian. all by itself). turn to its opposite. N. Pace Gallery. . suffering and incontrovertible death.

The ubiquitous ‘fox farm’ phrase is scrawled over the top right quadrant. revivified and. Painted on top of a found canvas (an extremely poor. triumphant in the face of death. . in a mixture of upper and lower case text.relevance to this subject. as found by Schnabel. amateur copy of a Reni Sebastian). lends poignancy to the image. as always. with much of its original paint long-gone and its paint discoloured by age. He has now swung full-circle: from bubonic plague intercessor to gay fantasy figure to gay-plague intercessor. The original. Sebastian is again the saint of the people. The poor condition of the canvas. the work has an immediacy and urgency befitting the subject of the gay plague. as does the tawdry ineptitude of the original hand. very poorly drawn image of Sebastian is bisected by a stripe of royal purple paint and much of the figure is ‘censored’ by a covering white smear of paint. Here. which has all the finesse of a house-painter’s practical coverage.

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