Saint Sebastian (c. 255-c. 288) was a third century Roman soldier condemned to death by Emperor Diocletian for aiding the Christians. He was tied to a post or tree and shot with arrows. Although his arrow wounds were not fatal, he was later clubbed to death. Here, Sebastian is presented in a loosely wrapped loincloth with an arrow stuck in his abdomen. His body is positioned almost like a classical sculpture, draped in dramatic lighting, which contradicts the bloody and gruesome nature of his death.
This painting by Guido Reni (1575-1642) was one of the most celebrated works in the Dulwich collection in the nineteenth century but its attribution at the time was uncertain. This painting is believed to be one of two autograph replicas of an original in the Prado, Madrid of 1617-18, the other being in the Louvre, Paris.