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Saint Sebastian
Giorgio Schiavone

This elegant and rather haughty young man dressed in fifteenth-century fashion is in fact an early Christian saint and martyr. Sebastian was a Roman soldier who secretly converted to Christianity and was executed for his faith by the Emperor Diocletian.

He comes from the upper level of a large polyptych (a multi-panelled altarpiece) painted by Giorgio Schiavone possibly for the church of San Niccolò in Padua; other panels are also in the National Gallery’s collection. We don't know the original order of the panels but this saint must have been on the right, looking inwards.

Saint Sebastian was very popular in the Middle Ages as he was believed to give protection from the plague. He holds an arrow, the symbol associated with him. According to his legend when his faith was discovered he was shot full of arrows. This failed to kill him, and he was eventually beaten to death.

Key facts
Artist Giorgio Schiavone
Artist dates 1436/7 - 1504
Full title Saint Sebastian
Group S. Niccolò Altarpiece, Padua
Date made probably 1456-61
Medium and support Tempera on wood
Dimensions 30.5 x 23 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1860
Inventory number NG630.9
Location in Gallery Not on display
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S. Niccolò Altarpiece, Padua


These ten panels once made up a polyptych (multi-panelled altarpiece) painted by Giorgio Schiavone, probably between 1456 and 1461. They were perhaps originally made for the chapel of the Frigimelina family in the church of San Niccolò in Padua.

In the fifteenth century the chapel may have been dedicated to the Virgin Mary, as she appears in the middle with saints on either side. We don‘t know exactly how the panels were arranged, but the full-length saints would have been in the bottom layer with the half-length figures above; this was a very popular format for Italian polyptychs. The altarpiece may well have had an elaborate frame, now missing.

The artist’s real name was Juraj Čulinović. Schiavone means ’Slavonian': he came from Dalmatia (in modern-day Croatia) but trained in Squarcione’s workshop in Padua in the late 1450s, when these panels were painted.