The treatment of this subject is unusual, because St Sebastian is commonly depicted pierced with arrows. According to legend, he was a member of the Roman Emperor Diocletian?s imperial guard who was condemned to death for being a Christian. Here Van Dyck did not depict the martyrdom itself, but the moment before this, when the saint was being prepared for his grisly end. The artist painted several versions of the subject around 1620-21. In this version, the athletic youth stands out from the other figures, his heavenward gaze emphasised by the dramatic red drapery. The painting has recently been conserved.