(b. 1431, Isola di Carturo, d. 1506, Mantova)

St Sebastian

c. 1480
Tempera on canvas, 255 x 140 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

This large St Sebastian was intended as an altarpiece. recent research confirmed that it was originally hung in the Sainte Chapelle at Aigueperse, a castle in the Auvergne in France. It may have been executed for the marriage of Chiara Gonzaga and Gilbert de Bourbon-Monpensier in 1481.

St Sebastian is standing like a piece of sculpture on a fragment of a building that looks like a pedestal, well above the archers whose heads are at the same level as that of the observer. Our gaze is drawn upwards towards the saint, whose eyes are also looking upwards to higher things. As an altarpiece, the whole composition was designed to be placed high up.

Mantegna introduced an indication of the rivalry between the arts of painting and sculpture: to one side of Sebastian's feet is a fragment of a marble statue, a foot in a Roman sandal.