This is the first of three paintings Mantegna made of St. Sebastian. The traditional belief is that he was killed during the Roman emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians: “And the archers shot at him till he was as full of arrows as an urchin is full of pricks, and thus left him there for dead.” But according to legend, the arrows did not kill him. When the widow of Castulus, Irene of Rome, went to retrieve his body to bury it, she discovered he was still alive. She brought him back to her house and nursed him back to health.
Like in all his work Mantegna’s love of detail is clearly visible.
Also, note the rider on a horse in the cloud in the left corner.