Saint Sebastian was one of the most popular subjects in Renaissance art and today is his feast day. He is instantly recognisable as the semi-naked chap with a body full of arrows.
Saint Sebastian, a Roman soldier and Christian convert, is believed to have been martyred (c. 288) during the reign of the emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305). According to legend, he was tied to a post or tree and shot with arrows.
Sebastian was left for dead, but was discovered by a Roman widow, named Irene, who removed the arrows and nursed him back to health. Shortly after his recovery, Sebastian went to Diocletian to chide him for his sins and was duly clubbed to death.
Sebastian is the patron saint of soldiers, archers and athletes. The saint's protection was also commonly invoked in times of plague.
Sebastian was usually depicted as a young man, naked apart from his loin cloth, his body resembling a pin-cushion. However there is a rare image of the saint, fully clothed and untouched by so much as a single arrow, in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli.
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