Born in Goa, a small Portuguese Catholic colony on the southern India coast, Francis Newton Souza saw the death of both his father and eldest sister before he had turned 2 years old. Moving with his widowed mother to Mumbai shortly thereafter, Catholicism remained an important part of his upbringing. However, Souza had a contentious relationship with the Catholic Church, captivated by it during his youth only to question it deeply later in life. The artist's early works mix elements of the Catholic imagery found in his birthplace with stylistic techniques of western modernism, his paintings suggesting the heavy black lines of Georges Rouault and tumultuous brush strokes of Chaim Soutine. Souza explains, "As a child I was fascinated by the grandeur of the Church and by the stories of tortured saints my grandmother used to tell me' (E. Mullins, F. N. Souza, Pg 55.) However, the idealized faces of these Catholic saints which adorned his churches and cathedrals turned virulent and unforgiving in the hand of Souza. The artists felt that, 'Renaissance painters painted men and women making them look like angels. I paint for angels, to show them what men and women really look like.' (E. Mullins, F. N. Souza, 82.)
In this double portrait from 1954 (lot 23), Souza instills his un-idealized figures with Christian elements, painting ecclesiastic robes and the arrows indicative of St. Sebastian onto the figures. Man, as is often the case in works of Souza, is clothed, while the female figure remains naked and almost primitive in her rendering. The artist juxtaposes his priestly male with the seductive Eve-like female figure, yet ironically chooses to pierce both with the arrows of martyrdom, Sainthood and Christianity. St. Sebastian, a figure who repeatedly appears in Souza works, is historically an officer of the Imperial Roman army who aided imprisoned Christians. He was tied to a tree and shot by arrows, miraculously surviving only to be murdered shortly thereafter, the arrows, indicative of his resilience and loyalty to Christ, became his distinguishing attribute. St. Sebastian's importance grew during the 14th century bubonic plague, when villagers began to turn to him for guidance, equating the seemingly random boils of infection with the wounds from being shot by an army of unseen archers. The importance of this work is emphasized even further by the suggestion of Souza's own likeness in the male figure. In this case, Souza seems to be illustrating his own inner turmoil as he is pulled between the restrictions of the church and the contemptible but irresistible lure of sex and women. Interestingly, the artist, whose own featurse were permanently marred as a young child after enduring a vicious bout with smallpox, might have related to St. Sebastian in the same way as the 14th century villagers, both suffering scars due to traumatic illness.