Saint Sebastian, in extreme pain, is bound with his back to a tree; both arms are pulled backwards and are tied to the stumps of branches with ropes. The position of his arms forces the saint, shown only as a half-length figure, to twist his naked torso which is covered with bleeding arrow wounds. His head leans to the side and back; his eyes look heavenwards. In addition to the martyrdom, conveyed through the saint’s expressive features, Schenck accentuates the young man’s youthful beauty through the head of curls and the red lips.
Among the works definitively attributed to Christoph Daniel Schenck there are several depictions of St Sebastian. The most important is doubtlessly the so-called ‘Stuttgart Sebastian statuette’. The ivory figure is signed by the artist and dated – the blackened engraving on the stone at the saint’s feet reads: C.D.Schenck / inv et sculpt. / 19. Nov. Anno 1675 / Constantiae. The masterly execution of pathos, the expression of suffering borrowed from Laocoön and the full head of hair are striking. Behind this is the artist’s intention to shock the pious viewer to the core when faced with the tormented martyr in his role as the imitatio Christi. To move believers emotionally and lead them to the ‘true faith’ of the Catholic Church, was an artistic concept of the Counter-Reformation used to great effect.
Another stylistically related example of Schenck’s close involvement with the figure of St Sebastian is an ivory medallion of around 1675/80. The tree to which the saint is tied is only hinted at here in small sections. His back is once again bent, the beautiful head framed with curls. Schenck has further developed the overall impression of the body to create a much more naturalistic figure, as shown for example in the rendition of the limbs squeezed around the neck and thigh areas. The physical tension of the maltreated body is transported to the viewer.
Compared to the two other renderings of Sebastian mentioned, our relief is probably the last one created. Schenck makes use of the stylistic motifs available with masterly confidence: the martyr’s tree, suggesting a landscape, is set against a blue background covered with punchmarks that simultaneously creates a spatial architecture for the pictorial surface.
The head, dramatically stretched backwards, is modelled once again on the figure of Laocoön, to which Fritz Fischer and Andrea Tietze refer in their catalogue of works on Christoph Daniel Schenck. The motif here, however, is artistically further refined.
Hofgalerie Hofstätter, Vienna
Prrivate collection, South Germany