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St. Sebastian is one of eight saints Lorenzo Costa painted in the late 1400s. The graceful figures originally flanked a central devotional image on a monumental altarpiece, likely in or near Bologna, Italy. The saints are identifiable by their attributes and by their names, which are inscribed underneath them in a northern Italian dialect. Devotees used this information to find the saints who were most relevant to their personal needs.
The arrows shot through St. Sebastian’s body refer to his torture at the hands of the Romans. Because he survived the attack, he was invoked as protection against the plague. Archers, soldiers, and the ill would have recognized these visual cues and prayed to him.