St. Sebastian, 1495-1500 circa

Liberale da Verona - Oil on panel - cm 198 × 95

The panel, which was executed around 1490 for the church of San Domenico in Ancona, has an unusual iconography that sets the martyrdom of the saint, represented in the traditional way bound to a tree and pierced by arrows, against the backdrop of a Venetian canal with gondolas.

The background reflects a passion for narrative on the part of the artist, who had worked as an illuminator in Central Italy and developed an intense interest in lively descriptions and forthright and expressionistic graphic solutions. The figure of the saint, on the other hand, is characterized by a solemn monumentality that alludes to the painting of the same subject by Antonello da Messina (now in Dresden), from which the detail of the foreshortened column is also derived.

“Sebastian’s youthful beauty made him an irresistible subject for artists eager to show their skill at human anatomy. The resulting image was often one of ecstatic, evensemi-erotic, suffering. This Sebastian comes with a twist. THe broken roman column speaks of history, but the backdrop is a bustling 15th century cityscape in beautifully realised detail. The collision of so much life against solitary suffering brings new drama to an old subject, challenging your eye to move between two. ”
Sarah Dunant

St. Sebastian
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