Andrea Mantegna, “Saint Sebastian”, 1456-1459, Oil on Panel, Kunsthistorisches Museum
Saint Sebastian was the subject of three paintings by the Italian Early Renaissance master Andrea Mantegna. The Paduan artist lived in a period of frequent plagues; Saint Sebastian was considered protector against the plague as having been shot through by arrows.
According to Battisti, the theme refers to the Book of Revelation. A rider is present in the clouds at the upper left corner. As specified in John’s work, the cloud is white and the rider has a scythe which he is using to cut the cloud. The rider has been interpreted as Saturn, the Roman-Greek god.
Instead of the classical figure of Sebastian tied to a pole in the Rome’s Martial Field, Andrea Mantegna portrayed the saint against an arch, whether a triumphal arch or the gate of the city. Characteristic of Mantegna is the clarity of the surface, the precision of an “archaeological” reproduction of the architectonical details, and the elegance of the martyr’s posture. The vertical inscription at the right side of the saint is the signature of Mantegna in Greek.