Object type


Place Associated

Germany, Nuremberg (probably) (place of manufacture)


16th century




overall: 48 mm x 470 mm x 470 mm 2524 g


A large shallow dish with scalloped sides and a wide brim finished with a turned lip. The circular repoussé medallion in the centre of the dish shows the Martyrdom of St Sebastian; the saint depicted tied to a tree between two archers, all standing in a field of flowers and surrounded by a starry sky. The repoussé medallion is surrounded by two bands of lettering, and the outer rim is stamped with a continuous floral pattern.

Brass dishes or basins of this type were made in Nuremberg, Germany - the largest centre of European metalwork manufacture in the 1500s. Skilled brass metal workers known as ‘basin-makers’ or ‘basin-smiths’ established workshops to mass produce dishes of this type. During the 14th to 16th century, brass dishes of this type were commonly used for domestic purposes, mostly as dining ware. Larger, deep dishes would be filled with water and used for washing hands at the dining table. These types of brass dishes are sometimes referred to as ‘alms dishes’ due to their common inclusion and display in ecclesiastical institutions.

The central medallion is created by repoussé technique – the design being drop forged between engraved hard cased dies, hammered, and punched through from the reverse side of the dish by the metal worker. Examples of these dishes feature different religious or secular scenes within the central medallion. This dish depicts the Saint Sebastian at the moment of his ‘first’ martyrdom.

Saint Sebastian is a Christian saint and martyr. He served under the Roman Emperor Diocletian (244-312 AD) as a member of his personal guard. After revealing he followed the Christian faith, Diocletian had Sebastian arrested and sentenced to death. Sebastian survived this ‘first martyrdom’ - execution by arrows (as shown on this dish). Sebastian went on to confess his Christianity at a public pagan ceremony organised by Diocletian. The emperor ordered Sebastian to be beaten, leading to his death and eventual martyrdom.

Renaissance artists often depicted Saint Sebastian at the moment of his first execution by arrows as a handsome, youthful man. These images of Saint Sebastian could be considered to be homoerotic as well as religious. In the 19th century, gay communities came to symbolically associate with Sebastian, transforming him into a ‘gay icon’. The suffering Sebastian endured for ‘coming out’ as Christian was seen as reflection of the prosecution the gay community would have experienced for being open about their sexual identity.

The most famous example of self-identification with Saint Sebastian came from Victorian poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). Wilde was found guilty for crimes of ‘sodomy’ in 1895 and sentenced to two years imprisonment. After his release, he went into self-imposed exile in Europe and wrote under the pseudonym ‘Sebastian Melmoth’. The name ‘Sebastian’ was taken from the saint of the same name.

This dish was one of over 70 brass dishes donated in 1944 as part of the Burrell Collection – a collection of 9000 fine and decorative art objects gifted to Glasgow by Victorian shipping magnate, Sir William Burrell, and his wife, Constance, Lady Burrell. The collection also holds another similar dish showing the Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian (5-6.230).

Credit Line/Donor

Gifted by Sir William and Lady Burrell to the City of Glasgow, 1944


Burrell Collection: European Bronzes and Brass Wares [except Statuary]

ID Number



Burrell Collection

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