15th century
Saint Sebastian

Oil on panel
Image size: 16 x 13 1/4 inches (41 x 34 cm)
Early gilt frame

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Saint Sebastian was a Roman centurion who converted to Christianity and, in punishment, the Roman Emperor Diocletian ordered Sebastian’s fellow soldiers to tie him to a post and shoot him with arrows.

The artist places the protagonist in the foreground, painting him in a bright light with delicate chiaroscuro shading against a background of darker colours with rays of gold shinning down. Six bloody arrows pierce Saint Sebastian’s body. Saint Sebastian is tied to a post and stares to the light shinning down from the top right corner.

Saint Sebastian wears the crown of martyrdom which again is in gold. Sebastian celebrates beauty as a manifestation of the divine. Here, however, the artist depicts the bound and wounded Saint Sebastian with only the barest suggestion of setting. In the absence of narrative details, the viewer is left to contemplate the saint’s serene suffering and tortured body. The artist has achieved a lovely combination of grace and monumentality in the figure.