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Antonio del Pollaiuolo and Piero del Pollaiuolo, 'The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian', completed 1475

Key facts
Full title The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian
Artist Antonio del Pollaiuolo and Piero del Pollaiuolo
Artist dates about 1432 - 1498; about 1441 - before 1496
Date made completed 1475
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 291.5 × 202.6 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1857
Inventory number NG292
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian
Antonio del Pollaiuolo and Piero del Pollaiuolo

A pale, clean-shaven young man, naked but for a loincloth, is bound to a tree. He gazes towards heaven, seemingly unaffected by the four arrows which pierce his upper body. This is Saint Sebastian, a Roman soldier who secretly converted to Christianity and was executed for his faith.

This altarpiece was painted in the mid-1470s by two brothers, Antonio and Piero del Pollaiuolo, for the Pucci family chapel in Florence. The chapel was very large, so the altarpiece needed to be clear even from a distance.

The artists used this large scale to show off their talent for perspective and for geometrical structure. The monumental figures of Sebastian and his tormentors make a giant triangle in the foreground, with the archers' arms and legs pressing up against the sides of the painting. Behind them the winding river draws our eyes into the blue distance.

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