Saint Sebastian

Image credit: The National Gallery, London

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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.

The National Gallery, London



Saint Sebastian


about 1623


Oil on canvas


H 101 x W 117 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Bought, 1930

Work type



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