Italian polychrome-painted wood sculpture of Saint Sebastian

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Italy, Emilia or Le Marche
Early 16th century
160 cm

R. Casciaro, Rinascimento scolpito. Maestri del legno tra Marche e Umbria, exh. cat. Convento di San Dominico, Camerino, Milan 2006, pp. 208-213, cat. no. 43-44.

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This polychrome-painted wood sculpture shows Saint Sebastian in a standing position tied against a pole and nude except for a cloth tied around his waist. Saint Sebastian was a Christian martyr from Milan in the third century AD. He secretly converted to Christianity and helped those who suffered from persecutions. According to legend, he was killed during emperor Diocletian's persecution of Christians by being tied to a post or tree and shot with arrows. In the body of the sculpture are several holes, as a result of the arrows. He was, however, rescued and healed by Saint Irene of Rome. Shortly after his recovery he went to Diocletian to warn him about his sins, and as a result was clubbed to death. He is the patron saint of archers, soldiers and sufferers of the plaque and therefore a popular figure in the Middle Ages.

He is often depicted in Western art, especially in the 15th century, when artists like Mantegna, Botticelli and Titian all depicted the young and dying saint. The combination of the handsome saint, with the details of his gruesome death continues to fascinate artists till today. 



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