This work was painted in 1628 by the Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán as part of a larger commission that had been commissioned by the convent of Nuestra Señora de la Merced Calzada in Seville. However, the painting is not found there today but in the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford in the United States.
San Serapio de Zurbarán
We see a Mercedarian saint, San Serapio, who had gone to evangelize lands in North Africa and was martyred there. In that attitude he is presented to us by this baroque painter specialized in religious art.
The hagiography of Saint Serapio recounts a brutal martyrdom during which the monk was disemboweled and his entrails were removed from inside his body. However, Zurbarán chooses to represent it with less morbidity. We see him hanging faint from his bound hands and with a robe that does not allow us to see his bloody wounds.
It is an abandoned body, and we feel all its weight, not only because of the posture, but also because of the scrupulous study that the painter made of the tunic and its folds.
All our gaze is focused on him, due to his resounding presence within the canvas and also due to his chromatic prominence, since the gown, the hands and the head are a subtle combination of colors that range from gray to ochres, from pinks to greens, to finally give a sensation of a peculiar white tone that stands out enormously on theintriguing darkness of the background.
And if we talk about color, we must mention the saint's face, which we know is already dead, not only because of the inert position of the head, but above all because of the tone of his complexion, typical of death. In short, it presents us with the martyrdom and sacrifice of this character, and all this without painting a single drop of blood, which contrasts with the lurid story of how he died.
Let's go back to that dark background. Something that has a lot to do with the art of Caravaggio, as in so many other works by Zurbarán. Although, in the Spanish painter that sensation that light emerges from darkness is very pronounced and acquires a symbolic value, very typical of the religious painting that he does. Which on the other hand is tremendously realistic. Hence, the magic of Zurbarán's paintings, that extraordinary fusion between realistic representation and symbolic atmosphere.
Another very interesting pictorial detail is the location and framing of the figure. The saint is slightly displaced to the left. And the fact that we don't see the whole figure of him, which is cut off more or less at the height of the thighs, indicates a higher point of view. We see San Serapio from above, which adds even more feeling to the image.