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Matteo di Giovanni, Saint Sebastian

Key facts
Full title Saint Sebastian
Artist Matteo di Giovanni
Artist dates active 1452; died 1495
Date made probably 1480-95
Medium and support Tempera on wood
Dimensions 126.4 × 59.7 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1895
Inventory number NG1461
Location Gallery B
Collection Main Collection
Saint Sebastian
Matteo di Giovanni

Saint Sebastian stands naked, covered only by a translucent loincloth. His youthful body is lean and muscly, and its strength, along with his upright pose and calm gaze, is at odds with the 12 arrows that pierce his flesh.

According to the Golden Legend, a thirteenth-century compilation of the lives of the saints, Saint Sebastian – a Roman soldier who secretly became a Christian – was tied to a post and shot by Emperor Diocletian’s soldiers. Matteo has shown the saint victorious over death, crowned by two angels that hover above. In his left hand he holds another golden crown; in his right, a palm leaf, the traditional symbol of martyrdom,

This picture may have been dedicated to the saint to ask for his protection, or in thanks for a cure. Alternatively, it may have formed part of a multi-panelled altarpiece or simply been used for private prayer.

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