Irene, a widow from Rome, tends to the wounds of Saint Sebastian, who miraculously survived an attack by Roman archers. On learning that Sebastian, a Roman army officer, had secretly adopted Christianity, his fellow soldiers shot him full of arrows and mistakenly left him for dead. After Irene nursed him back to health, this early martyr confronted the emperor with a renewed avowal of his faith.
Andrea Lilio almost certainly executed this drawing as a study for an altarpiece. In contrast to other images of Sebastian, which usually show the saint bound to a tree or pillar and surrounded by archers, this intimate depiction focuses on the saint's spiritual exaltation.