Saint Sebastian

Image credit: The National Gallery, London

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Saint Sebastian stands naked, covered only by a translucent loincloth. His youthful body is lean and muscly, and its strength, along with his upright pose and calm gaze, is at odds with the 12 arrows that pierce his flesh. According to the Golden Legend, a thirteenth-century compilation of the lives of the saints, Saint Sebastian – a Roman soldier who secretly became a Christian – was tied to a post and shot by Emperor Diocletian’s soldiers. Matteo has shown the saint victorious over death, crowned by two angels that hover above. In his left hand he holds another golden crown; in his right, a palm leaf, the traditional symbol of martyrdom, This picture may have been dedicated to the saint to ask for his protection, or in thanks for a cure.

The National Gallery, London



Saint Sebastian


probably 1480-95


Tempera on wood


H 126.4 x W 59.7 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Bought, 1895

Work type



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