Saint Sebastian

Anthony van Dyck

Chrysler Museum of Art

Chrysler Museum of Art

Van Dyck’s protagonist, Sebastian, was a commander in the Roman Praetorian Guard and a Christian sympathizer. He professed his faith and was condemned by the pagan Roman emperor Diocletian, who ordered him shot to death with arrows. Northern European artists typically portrayed the story’s grisly denouement. They would either show the wounded Sebastian bound to a tree or column, his body already pierced by arrows (cf. no. 19), or portray him being rescued and ministered to by Saint Irene and her servants. In his paintings Van Dyck consistently chose to depict an earlier and less conventional moment, when Diocletian’s henchmen, having removed the saint’s armor, prepare him for execution. In the Chrysler picture two burly soldiers hold Sebastian and bind his arms and legs while a helmeted archer at right draws his arrows. The saint’s composure and pale beauty isolate him from his tormentors. Instead, he confronts the viewer quietly, his gaze communicating both the pathos of his predicament and the steadfastness of his faith in the face of martyrdom. It is sometimes said that Van Dyck lent his own features to the face of the suffering Sebastian.


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  • Title: Saint Sebastian
  • Creator: Anthony van Dyck
  • Location Created: Italy
  • Provenance: Walsh Porter, Esq., England, 1810; Sir Abraham Hume, England; William Scrope, Esq., England, 1843; Lady Stewart-Ban, County Donegal, Ireland; Mr. A.L. Nicholson, London; Arthur U. Mentens (?), New York; Central Picture Galleries, New York, 1953; Walter P. Chrysler, Jr.; Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. to the Chrysler Museum, 1971.
  • Physical Dimensions: 74 1/2 x 56 3/4 in. (189.2 x 144.1 cm)
  • Credit Line: Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr.
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil on canvas