St Sebastian is a painting by Perugino. This is a variant of the panel with the same subject in the Louvre, formely in the Sciarra Colonna Collection, datable to the last decade of the 15th century. Another variant, on canvas, only partly executed by Perugino, is in the Museu de Arte in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Nothing is known for certain of Perugino’s early training, but he may have been a student of Fiorenzo di Lorenzo (c. 1440–1525), a minor painter in Perugia, and of the renowned Umbrian Piero della Francesca (c. 1420–92) in Arezzo, in which case he would have been a fellow student of one of his most celebrated contemporaries, Luca Signorelli. The two men were acquainted, and an occasional impact from Signorelli is obvious in Perugino’s work, outstandingly within the direction of an increased hardness of drawing. In Florence, where he is first recorded in 1472, he almost certainly worked in the shop of the painter and artist Andrea del Verrocchio, where the young Leonardo da Vinci was apprenticed. The first certain work by Perugino could be a Saint Sebastian, at Cerqueto, near Perugia. This fresco dates from 1478 and is typical of Perugino’s style.
The symmetrical composition draws on Perugino’s prior works – he first used the theme in St Sebastian between St Roch and St Peter, a fresco painted in Cerqueto. He stands on a terrace underneath a fantastic arch with grotesque-decorated pilasters and a balustrade. On the base of the platform is the Latin inscription “SAGITTAE. TUAE.INFIXAE. SUNT. MICHI”, drawn from Psalm 38:2 (“Thy arrows are fixed in me”).
The deep landscape background is ordinary of the artist, with wooded hills and mountains. To the left are a ruined vault and column, symbolizing the downfall of the pagan world
The figure of the martyr suffering at the column, his eyes raised to the sky and his foreshortened head inclined, had already been used by the artist in an altarpiece for the church of San Domenico at Fiesole, which bears the date 1493 and is now in the Uffizi.
The work of art was already in the Borghese Collection in 1650 with an attribution to Perugino, about which doubts were expressed by both Roberto Longhi (1928) and Paolo Della Pergola (1955).
The work of art has been considered to be an old copy after the artist (Scarpellini, 1991). In the original panel the two pillars are complete and have a grotesque pattern; moreover, the saint’s torso is pierced by two arrows only and the two ends of the drapery covering his groin are knotted in the front.