Reliquary of St Sebastian
Probably designed by Hans Holbein (1460-1465 - died 1534)
Probably Augsburg, Germany
Silver, parcel-gilt, hammered, cast and engraved; set with glass, pearls, sapphires and rubies
Height 49.5 cm
Museum No. M.27-2001
The figure of St Sebastian is tied to a tree by cords and his body is pierced by arrows, some of which are now missing. St Sebastian was a very popular saint in later medieval Europe. He was believed to have been a Roman officer, condemned to death in the 3rd century for his Christian beliefs. Reliquaries were designed to contain fragments of saints' bodies or objects associated with them. The base of this reliquary still contains relics associated with St Sebastian. Recent examination revealed fragments of wood wrapped in silk. These were probably believed to be shards of arrows that had pierced Sebastian.
The British Museum owns a design for this reliquary which is believed to be by the painter Hans Holbein the Elder (about 1460/5-1534).