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Gallery Text

Giovanni Battista Caracciolo was a leading Neapolitan painter and an early follower of Caravaggio, whose dramatic rendering of light and shadow influenced artists throughout seventeenth-century Europe. Though he never worked directly with the elder painter, Caracciolo learned Caravaggio’s techniques by studying his paintings in Naples and Rome. This canvas likely derived from a series of isolated male saints that Caracciolo painted during the 1620s. It depicts the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, the third-century Roman warrior killed during Diocletian’s persecution of the Christians. According to historical accounts, because of Sebastian’s refusal to relinquish his Christian faith, the emperor ordered that he be tied to a tree and shot with arrows. Caracciolo heightened the emotional drama of the scene through his use of chiaroscuro, the violent contrast of light and dark hues on the canvas. He intensifies this effect by illuminating the event only from the extreme left of the scene.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Giovanni Battista Caracciolo, Italian (Naples 1578-1635 Naples)
Previously attributed to school of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Italian (Milan or Caravaggio, Italy 1571 - 1610 Porto Ercole, Italy)
The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian
Work Type
c. 1625
Creation Place: Europe, Italy, Campania, Naples
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Oil on canvas
sight: 202.3 x 113.9 cm (79 5/8 x 44 13/16 in.)
frame: 221.3 x 133 x 8.5 cm (87 1/8 x 52 3/8 x 3 3/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • exhibition label: on back of frame, printed: [for Caravaggio and his Followers, Cleveland, 1972]
  • exhibition label: on back of frame, printed label: [Caracciolo exhibition, Naples, 1991-92]


Recorded Ownership History
Cesare Carrenti, Venice (1918). Corona Mundi, International Art Center, Roerich Museum, New York, (c. 1922-3). Herbert Pope, Arthur Pope, Edward W. Forbes and Paul J. Sachs, gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1924.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Herbert Pope, Arthur Pope, Edward W. Forbes and Paul J. Sachs
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Publication History

  • Hermann Voss, "Neues zum Schaffen des Giovanni Battista Caracciolo", Jahrbuch der Preuszischen Kunstsammlungen, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Berlin, 1927), 48. Bd., pp. 131-138, p. 138
  • Roberto Longhi, "Un San Tomaso del Valasquez e le congiunture italo-spagnole tra il '600", Vita Artistica (Rome, 1927), Anno II, no. 1, pp. 4-12, pp. 9-10, repr. p. 4 as fig. 4
  • "Exhibition of Italian XVII and XVIII Century Paintings and Drawings at the Fogg Art Museum", Parnassus (February 15, 1929), vol. I, no. II, p. 24, p. 24
  • "Exhibitions Coming and Going", The Arts (February 1929), vol. XV, no. 2, pp. 110-127, p. 122, repr.
  • Arthur McComb, "Exhibition of Italian Paintings and Drawings of the Sei- and Settecento", Parnassus (New York, February 1930), vol. II, no. 2, pp. 8-9, 38, p. 8
  • Arthur McComb, Exhibition of Italian Painting of the Sei- and Settecento, exh. cat., Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art / Morgan Memorial (Hartford, CT, 1930), p. 9, cat. no. 5 [as by School of Caravaggio]
  • Arthur McComb, The Baroque Painters of Italy: An Introductory Historical Survey, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1934), p. 123, as by a follower of Michelangelo da Carravaggio
  • La Mostra della Pittura Napoletana dei Secoli XVII-XVIII-XIX, F. Giannini (Naples, 1938)
  • Roberto Longhi, "Ultimi studi sul Caravaggio e la sua cerchia", Proporzioni, Sansoni (Florence, 1943), vol. I, pp. 5-64, p. 44, under note 30
  • Highlights from the Collections of the Fogg Museum and Harvard Alumni of St. Louis, exh. cat., City Art Museum of St. Louis (St. Louis, 1964), cat. 55
  • M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, and San Francisco Museum of Art, Man: The Glory, Jest, and Riddle; A Survey of the Human Form through the Ages, exh. cat. (1964), cat. no. 121
  • Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture from the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, exh. cat., Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, 1967)
  • Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings from the Fogg Art Museum, exh. cat., Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, NY, 1967), cat. 47
  • Alfred Moir, The Italian Followers of Caravaggio, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, 1967), vol. II, p. 163, n. 30; p. 54, no. 16
  • Brandt Aymar, The Young Male Figure, Crown Publishers Inc. (New York, NY, 1970), pp. 100-101, repr. p. 100
  • Richard E. Spear, Caravaggio and His Followers, exh. cat., Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, 1971), pp. 66-67, cat. no. 13, repr. p. 66
  • Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri, Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1972), p. 44
  • W. Chandler Kirwin, Five College Roman Baroque Festival, exh. cat., Amherst College (Amherst, 1974), cat. no. 38
  • Sydney J. Freedberg, "Lorenzo Lotto to Nicolas Poussin", Apollo (May 1978), vol. 107, no. 195, pp. 389-397, p. 394, repr. p. 393 as fig. 10
  • Benedict Nicolson, The International Caravaggesque Movement: Lists of Pictures by Caravaggio and his Followers through Europe from 1590 to 1650, Phaidon (Oxford, 1979), pp. 31, 225
  • Benedict Nicolson, Caravaggism in Europe, Umberto Allemandi & C. (Turin, 1990), vol. 1, pp. 77, 220
  • Edgar Peters Bowron, European Paintings Before 1900 in the Fogg Art Museum: A Summary Catalogue including Paintings in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), pp. 101, 343, repr. b/w cat. no. 718
  • Ferdinando Bologna, Battistello Caracciolo e il primo naturalismo a Napoli, exh. cat., Electa Napoli (Naples, 1991), p. 249, cat. no. 1.34, repr.
  • Eric M. Zafran, ed., Renaissance to Rococo: Masterpieces from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and Yale University Press (U.S.) (Hartford and New Haven, CT, 2004), p. 19, fig. 20 repr.

Exhibition History

  • Italian Painting of the Sei and Settecento, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, 01/22/1930 - 02/05/1930
  • Highlights from the Collection of the Fogg Art Museum and Harvard Alumni of St. Louis, City Art Museum of St. Louis, St. Louis, 01/30/1964 - 03/01/1964
  • Man: The Glory, Jest, and Riddle, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, 11/10/1964 - 01/03/1964
  • Collection of the Fogg Art Museum, Jewett Arts Center, Wellesley, 04/01/1967 - 04/30/1967
  • Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings from the Fogg Art Museum, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 05/08/1967 - 06/11/1967
  • Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture from the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 10/12/1967 - 12/03/1967
  • Caravaggio and His Followers, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 10/27/1971 - 01/02/1972
  • Five Colleges Roman Baroque Festival, Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, 04/04/1974 - 04/28/1974; Mead Art Museum, Amherst, 04/07/1974 - 04/30/1974
  • Master Paintings from the Fogg Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/13/1977 - 08/31/1977
  • Battistello Caracciolo e il Primo Naturalismo a Napoli, Palazzo di Capodimonte, 10/19/1991 - 01/05/1992
  • Ideal [Dis-] Placements: Old Masters at the Pulitzer, Pulitzer Arts Foundation, St. Louis, 10/24/2008 - 10/03/2009
  • 32Q: 2210 West Arcade, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 04/02/2019; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/04/2021 - 02/06/2023
  • 32Q: 3620 University Study Gallery, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/28/2023 - 05/07/2023

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

Verification Level

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at