UVaM - University of Virginia Art Museum



St. Sebastian

France, Burgundy
Saint Sebastian, late 15th century
44 1/4 x 15 3/4 x 10 1/2 inches
Museum Purchase with Curriculum Support Funds,

Saint Sebastian was a Christian martyr during the age of widespread persecutions of the early church. In 286, his Christian beliefs were denounced to Emperor Diocletian, and Sebastian was handed over to the Mauretanian archers for execution. As described by the Golden Legend, a thirteenth-century collection of hagiographies or saintly biographies, his limestone flesh is punctured all over "by arrows as a porcupine is with quills." After his body was riddled with arrows, which this statue has lost, Sebastian then went on to recuperate miraculously but subsequently was bludgeoned to death. In this statue, as in other examples of refined, late-medieval Burgundian sculpture, the tender attention to the natural modulation of the saint's flesh above the knees and across his abdomen seems to be at odds with the squat posture of the figural form. The swirling locks of the saint's hair, gathered at the high corners of his brow, his prominent cheekbones, and the delicate rendering of the eyelids are stylistic traits associated with the most exquisite work of fifteenth-century Burgundian sculptors.