(? – 1636 Pont-à-Mousson)



St. Irene with the head of St. Sebastian

oil on canvas

24 ⅞ x 22 ⅛ inches (63.2 x 55.9 cm.)





Sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 28 January 2010, lot 306 as “Roman School, 17th Century”


The court of Lorraine reached the pinnacle of its fame under the patronage of Charles III and his son Henri II in the early seventeenth century.  Many important artists such as Jacques Bellange (c. 1575-1616), Georges de La Tour (1593-1653) and Claude Lorrain (1604/5-1682) – contemporaries of Paul La Tarte – emanated from the capital city of Nancy and its environs during this period.  There was also a significant cultural exchange between Lorraine and Italy; most painters who were born in the duchy traveled to Italy early in their careers; there they were profoundly inspired by the work of Caravaggio. 

It is unknown whether or not La Tarte ever traveled to Italy.  In fact, aside from the date of his death and records of his name on several inventories in old collections of Lorraine, very little is known of the artist.  The art historian Gilles Chomer was the first to discover the only dated work by La Tarte; the firm attribution of this painting has provided a much needed starting point for understanding the obscure painter’s development and the parameters of his career. [1]  In addition to the aforementioned work, our painting, along with a painting recently acquired by the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, as well as works in Cracow, the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Chambéry, and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna remain among the sole surviving paintings attributed to the artist. [2]       

 Our work depicts the legend of the Roman martyr St. Sebastian and the pious widow St. Irene.  St. Sebastian was a captain under the Emperor Diocletian in the third century A.D.  When it was discovered that he was a Christian who had converted many soldiers, Diocletian ordered that Sebastian be killed by arrows. The archers left him for dead, but the Christian widow Irene nursed him back to health.[3]  St. Sebastian is often represented pierced with arrows and tied to a column or a tree.  La Tarte, however, took a more intimate approach to his subject matter, painting a bust-length portrait of St. Irene as she removes an arrow from the Saint’s body, while his head rests on her lap in the foreground. 

[1] Feeding the Cat, Private Collection, Lorraine, dated 1628. See Görel Cavalli-Björkman, “A Musical Party by Paul La Tarte, a Little-Known Painter from Lorraine,” Konsthistorisk tidskrift, 66, issue 4, 1997, pp. 233-239.  A copy of Chomer’s letter to Philip Conisbee, dated 2 April 1995, is in the documentation archives of the Painting Collections. Chomer writes that the painting was sold at an auction in Lyon on 5 December 1993, lot 196, as a work by Vincenzo Campi and that it is now in a private collection in Lorraine.

[2] A Musical Party, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm; The Concert, Wawel Castle, Cracow; The Market Stall, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Chambéry; Copy after Rubens’ The Dead Christ,  Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

[3] "Saint Sebastian." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 11 Jun. 2010 <>.