National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Saint Sebastian Matteo Civitali (artist)
Tuscan, 1436 - 1501
Saint Sebastian, c. 1492
painted terracotta
overall: 65.3 x 17.7 x 9.7 cm (25 11/16 x 6 15/16 x 3 13/16 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
1943.4.76
On View
From the Tour: 15th-Century Sculpture in Tuscany
Object 6 of 6

Matteo Civitali was born in the city of Lucca, in Tuscany. Probably trained in the Florentine studio of Antonio Rossellino, Civitali worked chiefly in Lucca on tombs and altar decorations for the cathedral and other churches. These included statues of Saint Sebastian in marble, wood, and terracotta. In his final years, Civitali worked on an important program of statuary for Genoa Cathedral.

According to legend, the pagan emperor Diocletian ordered that Saint Sebastian be shot with arrows in persecution of his Christian faith. With his hands bound behind him to a tree trunk, Sebastian stands in classical contrapposto, gazing upward for divine assistance. His body is modeled to suggest the bones and muscles beneath the surface of the skin. The statuette is painted in naturalistic colors, and small reddish stains appear near the holes where arrows would have pierced Sebastian’s body.

The story of Saint Sebastian was popular during the Italian Renaissance. The public venerated Sebastian as a defender against the plague, and his story provided artists an opportunity to portray the male nude. The intimate scale of this figure, perhaps based on a larger version for a church altar, suggests that it was made for devotion in a private home.

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