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Saint Sebastian

umbrian school

Traditionally attributed to Andrea Mantegna, this painting was first mentioned in connection with the Borghese Collection in 1700. In all likelihood it was executed in the first half of the 16th century by an anonymous Umbrian master who was strongly influenced by the style of Perugino. It depicts Sebastian, one of the best known Christian martyrs, who according to legend survived an attack of arrows. Here he is portrayed naked, bound to a pole, with a single arrow that has pierced his chest. The background is composed of a broad landscape which bears the imprint of Flemish culture.

Object details

First half of 16th century
oil on panel
cm 44 x 33

Salvator Rosa, 56 x 46 x 7 cm


(?) Rome, Borghese Collection, 1650 (Manilli 1650, conjectured); Rome, Borghese Collection, 1700 (Montelatici 1700); Inv. 1790, room VIII, no. 34; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 35. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 2009-10 Kyoto, National Museum of Modern Art;
  • 2010 Tokyo, Metropolitan Art Museum.
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1903-05 Luigi Bartolucci;
  • 2009 Cecilia Bernardini.


The provenance of this panel is unknown. The work was first documented as forming part with the Borghese Collection in 1700, when it was mentioned by Domenico Montelatici (1700), who curiously ascribed it to Andrea Mantegna. This mistaken attribution was repeated in the Inventario Fidecommissario and by Giovanni Piancastelli (1891).

While the work is certainly a product of an Umbrian painter clearly influenced by Perugino (see A. Venturi 1893), the precise identity of the artist is still unknown. Paola della Pergola (1955) suggested the name of Francesco Melonzio, a collaborator of Vannucci active during the first half of the 16th century, mainly in Montefalco (Beretta Festi 1973). Critics have not pursued this proposal, with the exception of Manuela Gianandrea (in Galleria Borghese 2009), who, however, published the painting under the name of an ‘Umbrian master’. On the other hand, in the view of Roberto Longhi (1928), the panel was to be ascribed to an artist from Bologna who was strongly influenced by Umbrian culture.

At the same time, critics have inexplicably ignored Iacomo Manilli’s mention in 1650 of a painting with a ‘Saint Sebastian pierced with arrows’ which he saw at the Casino di Porta Pinciana. Manilli attributed the work to a certain ‘Marco da Palma, a traditional-modern painter’ (Manilli 1650). While the brevity of the description induces caution, the adjective ‘traditional-modern’ employed by the keeper of the household matches the style of artist of the work in question, who seems caught halfway between Perugino’s influence and that of Flemish painting, with the latter evident in the rendering of the landscape behind the martyr. Nonetheless, without further information to aid us in identifying the artist called ‘Marco da Palma’, this suggestion remains in the realm of hypotheses.

Antonio Iommelli