One of the Ferens Art Gallery’s largest and most popular paintings returns home today after a tour of the UK and Ireland.
St Sebastian tended by the Holy Irene (c. 1675), by Nicolas Regnier, left the gallery during 2017 and has been seen by more than 300,000 people across the capital cities of London, Dublin and Edinburgh.
It was part of the prestigious national touring exhibition Beyond Caravaggio.
Councillor Marjorie Brabazon, chair of Hull Culture and Leisure, said: “It’s fantastic to have such a much-loved work returning home to the Ferens. Audiences benefit hugely from touring exhibitions and the loan of works.
“By lending this work we have increased awareness of Hull’s wonderful collections and included our painting in the latest research and publication on Caravaggio. As much as we’ve missed it, I’m pleased that art-lovers all over the country have been able to enjoy it.”
The vast painting will be hung in Gallery 2. It tells the story of the martyrdom of Sebastian, an officer of the Roman Imperial Guard who was punished for his Christian beliefs. He was shot and killed with arrows, but as he lay dying and wounded was found by the Holy Irene who nursed him back to health.
However, his story still ends in tragedy as he was punished a second time by clubbing to death, after which his body was thrown into the city’s main sewer.
Depictions of St Sebastian are common within Baroque Art, whilst his fate led to his celebration as the patron saint of archers and a protector against the plague.
The models for Irene and her helper were two of Regnier’s daughters who were well-known for their beauty.