San Sebastiano (1493-1494)

Perugino (c.1446-1523)

San Sebastiano (St Sebastian)
Tempera, oil on linden panel, 53.8 x 39.5 cm
Hermitage MuseumSaint Petersburg

Sebastian was a Roman soldier who served in the private guard of the Emperor Diocletian. For his faith in the teachings of Christ the Emperor condemned him to death and he was taken out, tied to a column and shot at with arrows. Italian masters often depicted the semi-naked Sebastian in full-length, his body pierced by arrows, drawn not by the scene of execution but by the opportunity to show the beauty of the naked body. Perugino, however, shows Sebastian only half-length, revealing his perfect command of light-and-shade modeling. Sebastian’s marvellous face does not express suffering but in his gaze raised to the heavens there is only thoughtful prayer. Dramatism was alien to the work of Perugino, the leading Umbrian artist of the late 15th century. On the arrow which projects from the saint’s neck the artist painted his name in gold letters. (SHM)

Inscription: “Petrus Perusinus pinxit” (Peter Perugian painted).