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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 Marc-André Raffalovich, a friend of Oscar Wilde. 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 might seem a fitting symbol for the more recent martyrdom of the war dead.

September 2016