The painting of St. Sebastian by El Greco was completed between 1576 and 1579. It is a significant work from his early years in Spain and features the martyr in an unusual kneeling position. This painting is El Greco’s first piece to showcase a life-size male nude. The martyr was a popular figure in both the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox traditions, and according to legend, he was a soldier sentenced to death for encouraging his fellow soldiers to hold steadfast in their Christian beliefs despite Emperor Diocletian’s commands.
The composition of St. Sebastian is thought to be derivative of other admired masterpieces by scholars. The frontal placing of the nude figure and treatment of the forms aims to avoid a three-dimensional emphasis, representing El Greco’s style around 1580. The artwork’s significance lies in its depiction of the martyr saint in a vulnerable position, yet he maintains a stoic composure despite his impending death. The piece is currently on display in Palencia Cathedral, where visitors can appreciate El Greco’s skillful use of color, composition, and light to convey the saint’s suffering and the spiritual strength that aids him.