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Saint Sebastian Tended by the Pious Women

Rustici Francesco called Rustichino

(Siena 1592 - 1626)

The canvas was made by Francesco Rustici who sold it to Scipione Borghese in 1624-1625. The subject depicts a well-known episode of the passion of Sebastian, a young commander of the first Praetorian Guard (284-305). After Sebastian had converted numerous pagans to the Christian religion, he was condemned to martyrdom by the emperor Diocletian. The saint was tied to a pole and shot with arrows by his own comrades. Believing him dead, they abandoned his body near the Cloaca Maxima. The matron Irene found him there in the night, and with her servant, decided to help him, carefully removing the arrows from his wounds.

Object details

oil on canvas
cm 150 x 211

Salvator Rosa 172.5 x 242 x 8 cm


Rome, Borghese Collection, 1650 (Manilli 1650, p. 8); Inv. 1693, room IX, no. 1; Inv.,1700, room IX, no. 6; Inv. 1790, room IV, no. 69; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 22; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 2005-2006 Siena, Palazzo Squarcialupi.
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1996 Elena Zivieri, Guido Piervincenzi (restauro completo della cornice e della tela).


The painting was mentioned for the first time by Iacomo Manilli among the works at the Casino di Porta Pinciana. In 1650, Manilli rightly attributed the work to the painter from Siena, describing it as ‘the great St Sebastian, with two women who are removing the arrows. It’s by Rustichino of Siena’. The attribution is retained in all the inventories and later sources. It was only confused by François Raguenet in 1701 (p. 13), who according to Paola della Pergola (1959, p. 51) ascribed it to ‘Mecherino’, evidently in a moment of distraction.

The work depicts a subject dear to Christian worshippers: Irene tends to the martyr Sebastian after his arrow-ridden body was thrown into the Cloaca Maxima. Rustici in fact decided to represent the moment in which the pious woman, aided by her assistant, is extracting one of the arrows from the saint’s side and treating his wounds.

According to critics, the Sienese artist sold the painting to Scipione Borghese during one of his brief stays in Rome, most likely between 1624 and 1625, when Rustici is mentioned in the ‘state of souls’ record of the parish church of San Lorenzo in Damaso as having sojourned in a house in Vicolo delle Stalle, together with Girolamo Tantucci – the bishop di Grosseto – and the engraver Orazio Brunetti (Sani 1997, pp. 434, 457; Pezzo 2017); Brunetti in fact produced a significant number of prints from engravings designed by Rustici.

Variations on this theme which are also considered the work of the Sienese painter are held by other museums and churches: the Yekaterinburg Museum of Fine Arts, which preserves a work published by Markova and believed to be later than our painting (1994, p. 247, fig. 2); the church of St Sebastian in Narbonne, which contains a painting mentioned by Roberto Longhi (1928, p. 179); the Gallerie fiorentine (Spinelli 1997, pp. 24-25); and the Pinacoteca di Siena. The last of these works was brought to completion by Father Vincenzo Rustici upon the premature death of the painter in April 1626 (Bagnoli 1980, pp. 89, 187). Another painting with a similar subject, finally, is cited by Marco Ciampolini (2017, p. 271, fig. 47), who attributes it to Rustici, whereas previous critics had ascribed it to the painter Trophime Bigot.

  Antonio Iommelli

  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, p. 80;
  • F. Raguenet, Les Monuments de Rome ou descriptions, Amsterdam 1701, p. 13;
  • L. Lanzi, Storia Pittorica dell’Italia dal risorgimento delle Belle Arti fin presso la fine del XVIII secolo, I, Bassano 1789, p. 564;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 277;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 47;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 179;
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 51, n. 72;
  • P. Della Pergola, L’Inventario Borghese del 1693 (III), in “Arte Antica e Moderna”, XXX, 1965, p. 204;
  • E. Borea, in Caravaggio e caravaggeschi nelle Gallerie di Firenze, catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Palazzo Pitti, 1970), a cura di E. Borea, Firenze 1970, p. 53;
  • E. Bénezit, Dictionaire critique et documentaire des peintres, sculpteurs, dessinateurs et graveurs, Paris 1976, vol. IX, p. 194;
  • A. Bagnoli, in L’arte a Siena sotto i Medici: 1555 – 1609, catalogo della mostra (Siena, Museo Civico, 1980), a cura di F. Sricchia Santoro, Roma 1980;
  • M. Ciampolini, in Pitture senesi del Seicento, catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Palazzo Strozzi, 1989; Firenze, Palazzo Ridolfi, 1989; Siena, Museo Civico, 1989-1990), a cura di G. Pagliarulo, R. Spinelli, Firenze 1989, pp. 18-20, n. 3;
  • E. Fumagalli, Pittori senesi del Seicento e committenza medicea: nuove date per Francesco Rustici, in “Paragone/Arte”, XLI, 1990, pp. 69-82, p. 73;
  • G. Papi, Novità sul soggiorno italiano di Gerrit Honthorst, in “Paragone/Arte”, XLI, 1990, pp. 47-68, pp. 47-68;
  • V. Markova, Qualche nota sul Seicento senese: Rutilio Manetti e Francesco Rustici, in “Studi di storia dell’arte in onore di Mina Gregori”, Cinisello Balsamo 1994, p. 247, fig. 2;
  • B. Sani, in Il Cinquecento e il Seicento, in Pittura senese, a cura di G. Chelazzi Dini, A. Angelini, B. Sani, Milano 1997, p. 434;
  • R. Spinelli, Francesco Rustici e Giovan Battista Marmi in Palazzo Panciatichi a Firenze, Firenze 1997, pp. 12, 24-25;
  • I. Auffret-Duriez, Saint Sébastien soigné par Irène par Fracesco Rustici (1592-1626) au Musée Picardie à Amies, in "Revue du Louvre", LI, 2001, pp. 55-65;
  • M. Ciampolini, in Luce e ombra: caravaggismo e naturalismo nella pittura toscana del Seicento, a cura di P. Carofano, Pisa 2005, p. CXLVI;
  • B. Granata, scheda in Siena e Roma. Raffaello, Caravaggio e i protagonisti di un legame antico, catalogo della mostra (Siena, Palazzo Squarcialupi, 2005), a cura di B. Santi, C. Strinati, Siena 2005, p. 378, n. 5.9;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 16;
  • M. Ciampolini, Pittori senesi del Seicento, III, Siena 2010, pp. 675, 677, 678, 685, 686;
  • M. Ciampolini, Francesco Rustici detto il Rustichino, certezze e novità, in Il buon secolo della pittura senese. Dalla maniera moderna al lume caravaggesco, catalogo della mostra (Montepulciano-Pienza-San Quirico d’Orcia, 2017), a cura di M. Ciampolini et al., pp. 271-272;
  • A. Pezzo, Rustici Francesco, detto il Rustichino, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, LXXXIX, Roma 2017, ad vocem.