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Gerrit van Honthorst, Saint Sebastian

Key facts
Full title Saint Sebastian
Artist Gerrit van Honthorst
Artist dates 1592 - 1656
Date made about 1623
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 101 × 117 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1930
Inventory number NG4503
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Saint Sebastian
Gerrit van Honthorst

Four bloody arrows pierce Saint Sebastian’s seemingly lifeless body. One has stabbed through his leg, and a stream of blood seems to enter our space from its tip. The saint 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.

Honthorst must have seen many depictions of the saint’s martyrdom during the period that he worked in Rome, but he likely painted this work a few years after he returned to his native Utrecht in 1620. There were a number of outbreaks of the plague in Utrecht between 1624 and 1626, and Sebastian was revered as a ‘plague saint’, believed to offer protection against the deadly and highly contagious disease.

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