Josse Lieferinxe, St. Sebastian Interceding for the Plague-Stricken

Provence, France, 1497-99
Oil on panel
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland (37.1995)

Pictured is a plague in the 7th century in Pavia, which was then the capital of the Kingdom of the Lombards. According to Paul the Deacon's Annals of the Lombards (255), a certain man received a revelation that the plague would cease if the people raised an altar to St. Sebastian. They did, and it did.

According to Paul, during the plague a good angel and a bad angel flew above the city. When the good one pointed to a house, the bad one struck with his spear and everyone in the house would die. This is what we see in the painting just above the cityscape. Just above that, St. Sebastian kneels before the Lord, arrows still in his body, and prays for the relief of the city.

The main scene is a grim reminder of what the plague was like. While clergy prayed over the dead, countless bodies were gathered in the streets and carted away by workers who themselves would fall to the disease, like the man falling down in the lower left.

According to a note at the Wikimedia page, the city pictured in the background is not Pavia but Avignon.

More of St. Sebastian

Source: Wikimedia Commons