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Saint Sebastian

Photo credit: The National Gallery, London

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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.

The National Gallery, London



Saint Sebastian


probably 1456-61


Tempera on wood


H 30.5 x W 23 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Bought, 1860

Work type



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Normally on display at

The National Gallery, London

Trafalgar Square, London, Greater London WC2N 5DN England

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