St Sebastian miraculously survived the arrows intended to kill him as punishment for his Christian faith. He had long been a favourite vehicle for the depiction of the male nude. This work was commissioned from Gill, who was a Roman Catholic, by a friend of Oscar Wilde named Marc-André Raffalovich. Though Gill does not include the arrows, thus emphasising the relaxed sensuality of the saint's languid pose, the sculpture also recalls a memorial monument. Heroic nudes were common on war memorials of the 1920s and the theme of St Sebastian seemed a fitting symbol for the more recent martyrdom of the war-dead.