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Saint Sebastian
Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano
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A pale young man stands in a stone niche, almost naked and seemingly unaware of the arrows in his arm and leg. This is Saint Sebastian, a Roman soldier who secretly converted to Christianity. When his faith was discovered, he was shot with arrows but miraculously survived.

Here, the saint seems more like a classical statue than a living figure. Cima must have been aware of Tullio Lombardo’s famous Adam (made around 1490–5), the first nude marble statue sculpted since antiquity; he has replicated the figure’s stance, curly hair and slightly vacant expression almost precisely.

This painting is one of two in the National Gallery’s collection which must have formed the side panels of a multi-panelled altarpiece, but we are not sure when they were made, or where for.

Key facts
Artist Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano
Artist dates about 1459/60 - about 1517/18
Full title Saint Sebastian
Group Two Panels from the S. Maria dei Crociferi Altarpiece
Date made about 1500
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 103.2 x 40.6 cm
Acquisition credit Mond Bequest, 1924; entered the Collection in 1938
Inventory number NG4946
Location in Gallery Not on display
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Two Panels from the S. Maria dei Crociferi Altarpiece

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Two monumental saints – Mark and Sebastian – stand in niches topped with shell-like arches. They must originally have formed the outer wings of a multi-panelled altarpiece. We don't know where they originally came from, but in the seventeenth century two panels were recorded in the church of the Crociferi, Venice, where they flanked an image of the Annunciation by Cima (State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg). They do not seem to have belonged together, however: the Annunciation is taller, quite different in composition and painted on cloth rather than wood.

It is possible that they came from an altarpiece which was part sculpted and part painted, like the one Cima da Conegliano painted for the parish church of Olera, near Bergamo. Its painted panels show standing saints, and they flank a carved and coloured statue of Saint Bartholomew in a shell-shaped niche.

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