‘Saint Sebastian, Exquisite Pain’ is a work from Hirst’s ‘Natural History’ series that the artist initially made sketches for in 2002, before it was fabricated for ‘Beyond Belief’ – his major exhibition at White Cube, London, in 2007.
Explaining that his “belief in art is a completely religious belief”, Hirst has frequently cited the importance of his exposure to Catholic images and teachings as a child. The martyr Saint Sebastian – portrayed within the Christian iconographic tradition as a youthful man bound and shot with arrows – is here instead depicted as a young bull, pierced with crossbow bolts, arrows and knives. Regarding his choice of a bullock as the martyred saint, Hirst explains: “It’s kind of odd to take meat and give it back a personality in some way or make it a metaphorical carrier or something like that. People don’t like faces on meat. But also for it to be dead in a tragic way. For you to have some sort of understanding or to feel its pain or tragedy.”
In the same year as this work was made, Hirst created a similar piece titled ‘Saint Sebastian, Purified’, using a white bullock.
 Damien Hirst cited in ‘An Interview’, Hans Ulrich Obrist, ‘Beyond Belief’ (Other Criteria/White Cube, 2008), 34