Sandro Botticelli
Saint Sebastian

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Sandro Botticelli, Saint Sebastian



65.7 X 41 cm

Berlin, Gemaldegaierie

St. Sebastian

Botticelli’s St. Sebastian was considered his first large scale nude. It was displayed in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Florence on a column. He chose to portray St. Sebastian as a young man. Behind Sebastian is a simple landscape that includes a town that appears to be Flemish. The painting is very simple, a characteristic of Florentine paintings during that time period. The painting is uncomplicated - painted for the viewer to enjoy and admire.

Sebastian was born in Narbonne, a southern French town in the third century. He was martyred in Rome during the third century. In other words, he was beaten and killed for his Christian beliefs. When he converted to Christianity, his master Diocletian ordered his execution by archers and their bow and arrows for his beliefs. The archers, believing that Sebastian was close to death, left him to die, but he was found by a widow named Irene. Irene took care of him until he was once again healthy. When his health returned, he confronted the Emperor Diocletian about the way he treated Christians. Because of this confrontation, Diocletian had Sebastian beaten to death and disposed of his body in the local sewer system.

Sebastian became a revered saint as history retold his story. Botticelli’s painting began Sebastian’s story of attempted murder just after the soldiers left him. The soldiers can be seen in the background shooting at birds. Botticelli showed Sebastian to be at peace even though his body was injured. In earlier renditions of this story Sebastian was usually portrayed as an older bearded man. These paintings were eventually replaced with the younger, nearly naked version like Botticelli’s. Sebastian became the patron saint of plagues because the wounds of the arrow were similar to the marks of the plagues.

Botticelli found that the stages of Sebastian’s life can be parallel to the stages in the life of Christ. Christ was crucified and suffered for the sins of humans just as Sebastian’s suffering represented the miserable plague victims. Sebastian showed victory over death, just as Christ did.




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