GOZZOLI, Benozzo
(b. ca. 1420, Firenze, d. 1497, Pistoia)

St Sebastian Intercessor

Fresco, 527 x 248 cm
Nave of Sant'Agostino, San Gimignano

Along with the original commission to fresco the choir of Sant'Agostino in San Gimignano, Gozzoli received a number of other requests, including two 'Pestbilder' (a painted prayer against the plague). For the Sant'Agostino, Gozzoli created a votive fresco showing St Sebastian Intercessor on the southern nave wall. This work was painted during the outbreak of the plague in 1464, as we are informed by the inscription on the saint's pedestal. This would mean that Gozzoli interrupted the painting of the apsidal chapel in order to produce this picture.

The outbreak of the plague caused a rapid increase in depictions of St Sebastian where the saint is clad only in a loincloth and tied to a tree or column. Here he is standing dressed on a pedestal. God the Father, surrounded by angels holding arrows in their hands, appears above the saint's head. He is about to hurl the arrow he is holding at the world. Mary and Christ are kneeling before him as intercessors. Christ is pointing to the open wound on his side and Mary is baring her breast in order to remind God of their sacrifices for the Christians and move him to be lenient. The prayer of St Sebastian is keeping off God's arrows which are breaking behind him, thus protecting the people crowded at his feet.

The Augustinian behind the white-haired man in profile on the left is probably a portrait of Domenico Strambi, presumably the author of the iconographic program of the Scenes from the Life of St Augustine, painted by Benozzo in the choir of Sant'Agostino. Furthermore, on the small devotional picture of the Crucifixion on the lower frame of the fresco, the donor portrait of Domenico Strambi can be seen.