This work by Antonio Pollaiuolo (1429 – 1498) currently owned by the National Gallery in London is a good example of how Renaissance artists applied perspective studies to religious painting in churches, taking into account that there they were works that had to be seen from a certain distance and had to be integrated into the architectural ensemble of the temple.
Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian of Pollaiuolo
The scene of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, given its truculence, has been painted numerous times throughout the history of art. In fact, an artist contemporary to Pollaiuolo such asAndrea Mantegnahas another Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian among his masterpieces
The painting by Pollaiuolo, whose original name was Antonio di Jacopo Benci, may not be as successful as this one, but it's a work with a very correct drawing and a harmonic composition based on the norms of the Renaissance painting.
We see the saint tied to a post and surrounded by six executioners, all made up of postures and locations that give great balance to the scene, forming a clear acute triangle between all of them. This composition is so clear that it can even seem excessively rigid, so he introduced certain elements to animate the scene.
For example, at the lower ends we see two executioners, one from the front and the other from behind, both pointing their bows at the saint. And that same variant is included in the two characters in the lower center who are loading the arrows in their crossbows. An extremely simple resource, but one that manages to break the strict symmetry of the composition, and endow it with movement.
You can almost think that in addition to serving as elements to dynamize the image, it is also a kind of pictorial exercise, using the same models to paint them from two different angles of vision. An impression that is corroborated by carefully observing the figures, in which the painter has expanded when capturing the muscles and postures, aware of his ability to do so, and leaving the main theme of martyrdom almost in the background.
In fact, the image of the saint with arrows barely stands out against a background Tuscan landscape that the painter has represented with the new art of perspective. And the truth is that the saint and his background do not combine excessively, since there is no clear continuity between the hill where the martyrdom takes place and the distant landscape. And at all times, the representation of human bodies seems to be more important to the eye than the scene as a whole.
The truth is that it is not surprising that Pollaiuolo focused a lot on the representation of human figures, since it was one of the strengths of his painting, because he had extensive knowledge of anatomy and its representation, something whatit helped in his work as a painter and also in his works as a sculptor, goldsmith and engraver. In other words, Pollaiuolo, like other masters of theRenaissance, developed his work in various artistic disciplines and in some of them made important advances, such as perfecting enamel work.