Hans Holbein the Elder, St. Sebastian Altarpiece

Circa 1516
Lime panel, 153 x 107 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

German postage stamp commemorating Hans Holbein the Elder (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In the center panel St. Sebastian is tied to a tree and pierced by arrows, as in most of his portraits. But in this narrative painting he is also surrounded by six archers and two onlookers. The saint on the left is Barbara, identified by the tower and chalice. On the right, St. Elizabeth of Hungary pours water from a ewer into a leper's bowl while a leprous boy and a bearded man look on. The bearded man is Holbein himself, as one can see from the postage stamp at right.

The work retains the triptych arrangement common in the previous century, with portrait figures flanking a larger image of the saint. And the arrangement of the archers and onlookers mimics the old way of arranging figures around the central portrait of a saint. But of course no one would mistake the three paintings for anything but products of the Renaissance, with deep backgrounds, linear perspective, carefully modeled faces, and so on. The only thing medieval about them is the church in the background of St. Elizabeth.

Read more about images of St. Sebastian, St. Barbara, and St. Elizabeth of Hungary.
Read more about medieval and Renaissance altarpieces.

Source: this page at Wikimedia Commons.