Serapion, Saint


Serapion, Saint
(1628; Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum)
   Painted by Francisco de Zurbarán for the Monastery of the Merced Calzada in Seville, Spain, the work shows a saint of the Mercedarian Order to which the monastery belonged. The Mercedarians took a vow of poverty and exchanged themselves for Christian hostages. Their history therefore includes a large number of members who were martyred, including St. Serapion. Peter Serapion was a British member of the order who lived in the 12th century and who fought against the Moors in Spain. Travels through Europe to liberate Christian captives led to his arrest in Scotland by pirates. They bound his hands and feet, beat him, and then dismembered and disemboweled him. They also partially severed his neck, leaving his head to dangle. This is how Zurbarán depicted him. In the painting, St. Serapion's hands are tied, his head tilted to the side, his forehead marked by a welt. Though the details of the saint's death are brutal, Zurbarán chose to depict a pristine white robe without any trace of blood or other evidence of violence. Pinned to Serapion's robe is the badge of the Mercedarian Order, and his pose is that of a crucified Christ— elements that denote the selfless sacrificial act of the Mercedarians. Zurbarán also included the words Beatus Serapius written on a crumpled paper nailed on the right post onto which the saint is tied. St. Serapion was canonized in 1728 for choosing a heroic death for the sake of the faith.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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