St. Sebastian Shot with Arrows
Prayer Book of Anne de Bretagne
Illuminated by Jean Poyer
126 x 80 mm
The Pierpont Morgan Library, Purchased in 1905
MS M.50 (fol. 16)
This prayer book was commissioned by Anne de Bretagne, wife of two successive kings of France, Charles VIII and Louis XII, to teach her son, the dauphin Charles-Orland (1492–1495), his catechism. It was painted in Tours by Jean Poyer, an artist documented as working for the queen. The book is richly illustrated, and its thirty-four airy, light-flooded miniatures are among the most delicate examples of late-fifteenth-century art.
St. Sebastian Shot with Arrows (fol. 16, right)
Traditional iconography depicts Sebastian tied to a tree, shot with arrows, and left for dead by the archers. Sebastian was popular in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance because he protected people from bubonic plague, a disease without cure that was widespread in Europe from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century.
Sebastian did not actually die from these arrows; St. Irene removed the weapons and nursed him back to health. Sebastian returned to work for Emperor Diocletian, who promptly had him clubbed to death and thrown into the sewers of Rome.