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Giovanni di Paolo, Saints Fabian and Sebastian

Key facts
Full title Saints Fabian and Sebastian
Artist Giovanni di Paolo
Artist dates active by 1417; died 1482
Date made about 1475
Medium and support Egg tempera on wood
Dimensions 84.5 × 54.5 cm
Acquisition credit Presented through the Art Fund in memory of Robert Ross, 1919
Inventory number NG3402
Location Gallery B
Collection Main Collection
Saints Fabian and Sebastian
Giovanni di Paolo

Saint Fabian and Saint Sebastian, wounded by arrows, are shown together with two tiny figures wearing black cloaks with hoods and white veils. Medieval Christians prayed to both saints as protectors against the plague.

Saint Fabian was pope in the third century and is shown wearing a papal tiara; he was martyred under the Roman Emperor Decius. Sebastian was tortured by the Emperor Diocletian who ordered his soldiers to tie him to a stake and shoot him with arrows. He survived, but was later beaten to death. Thick droplets of vivid red blood ooze from each of his wounds.

This painting was made in Siena, and it’s likely that it was commissioned by the religious group to which the little kneeling figures belonged. They may represent a group called the Bianchi – who had an altar dedicated to the saints in the eighteenth century – although they usually wore all white. This large panel may have originally been painted on both sides and carried in religious processions.

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