Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb

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Francisco de Zurbarán (Spanish, 1598–1664)
Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb, 1630/34
Oil on canvas
80 5/8 × 44 5/8 in. (204.79 × 113.35 cm)
Purchase M1958.70
Photo credit: John R. Glembin
Currently on View

Francisco de Zurbarán was one of the greatest painters of the Golden Age in Spain. He worked primarily for the monastic orders that flourished in Spain during the Counter-Reformation. His best-known paintings are of humble monks and saints dramatically lit against simple dark backgrounds, as in this hauntingly beautiful work Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb. As the founder of the Franciscan Order, the ascetic saint had a special resonance in Spain's Monastic communities and with the reform movement of the Catholic Church. Zurbarán's many paintings of the subject are notable for their quiet evocation of monastic solitude and contemplation. This strangely somber Saint Francis was inspired by a legend that became popular in the seventeenth century. The uncorrupted, motionless body of the saint miraculously appeared above his coffin when Pope Nicholas V visited the burial crypt in the church at Assisi in 1449. Zurbarán's powerful portrayal concentrates solely on the single figure of the saint, who stands before us full-length, life-size, and dressed in the wool garments worn by the Franciscan monks. A high, peaked cowl casts his face into darkness and focuses our attention on the saint's meditative state and on the golden skull he clutches to his chest--the object of his intense contemplation. A strong shaft of light pierces the darkness and imbues the figure with a mystical presence. His hands, feet, and chest exhibit the stigmata--the five wounds of Christ's Passion--symbolizing the hope of the Resurrection. Few Baroque works so poignantly address the ultimate questions of reality and illusion, substance and shadow, life and death.

Publication History
Davis, Robert. The Weight of Love: Affect, Ecstasy, and Union in the Theology of Bonaventure. 2016, Cover, color illustration.

Wismer, Beat, Odile Delenda, and María del Mar Borobia Guerrero. Zurbarán. Düsseldorf: Museum Kunstpalast and Munich: Hirmer, 2015, fig. 5, color illus. p 148.

Vandepitte, Francisca. Constantin Meunier: 1831-1905. Tielt: Lannoo, 2014, p. 58, color illus., illus., 3.9.

Kelly, Chelsea Emelie. People's Choice: Your Top 25 Works of Art in the Collection. Entry posted April 5, 2013. (accessed October 28, 2014).

Delenda, Odile, Francisco de Zurbarán, and Almudena Ros de Barbero. Francisco de Zurbarán, 1598-1664: catálogo razonado y crítico. Madrid: Fundación Arte Hispánico, 2009, cat. 96, p. 320, color illus.

del Monticello, Giovanni Pellinghelli and Ermanno Rivetti. Zurbarán: Elevation of a Master. The Art Newspaper, no. 250 (October 2013): 72-73, color illus.

Zurbarán, Francisco de, Ignacio Cano Rivero, and Gabriele Finaldi. Zurbarán (1598-1664). 2013, color illus., p. 139, p. 134 (detail).

Quin, Elisabeth, and Isabelle d' Hauteville. Le Livre des Vanités. Paris: Ed. du Regard, 2010, p. 14, p. 203, color illus.

Vignot, Edwart, and Arlette Sérullaz. La main dans l'art. Paris: Citadelles & Mazenod, 2010. color illus. p. 203.

Arts Magazine, no. 44 (April 2010): supplemental booklet, color illus. p IV.

Arts Magazine. Les Essentiels: Collection d'arts 4. Le Siècle d'or espangnol (2010): color illus. p. 6.

Baldassari, Anne, Marie-Laure Bernadac, and Henry Loyrette. Picasso et les maitres. Paris, France: Reunion des Musees nationaux, 2008, p. 176.

Gimenez, Carmen, Francisco Calvo Seraller, ed. Spanish Painting from El GReco to Picasso: Time Truth and History. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and SEACEX and Tf. Editores, 2006, color illus. p. 345.

Milwaukee Art Museum News, March 2006, no page number, color illus (detail).

Andera, Margaret, Nonie Gadsden, Britt Salvesen, and Laurie Winters. Collection Guide: Milwaukee Art Museum. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Milwaukee Art Museum, 2004, pp. 14, 68, cat. 13, color illus. p. 14.

Milwaukee Art Museum News, October 2003, no page number, color illus.

Milwaukee Art Museum. Building a Masterpiece: Milwaukee Art Museum. New York: Hudson Hill Press, 2001, p. 72, color illus. p. 72, color details p. 56, p. 57.

Andera, Margaret, Nonie Gadsden, Britt Salvesen, and Laurie Winters. Collection Guide: Milwaukee Art Museum. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Milwaukee Art Museum, 2004, p. 14, 69, color illus. p. 14.

Goldstein, Rosalie, ed. Guide to the Permanent Collection. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Milwaukee Art Museum, 1986, p. 35, color illus. p. 35.

Mississippi Authority for Educational Television. Art for the Day television program. 1972, illus.

Milwaukee Magazine (March 1972): color illus. p. 85.

Workshop: Confrontations of Death brochure. Newport, Oregon Office of the Community Coordinator, May 24-25, 1972, illus. on cover.

I Love My Wife. American movie starring Eliott Gould and Brenda Voccaro, 1971, illus. on wall of psychiatrist office.

Milwaukee Journal. b/w illlus. December 8, 1965.

Milwaukee Sentinel. May 23, 1964, b/w illus

Milwaukee Journal, August 23, 1960, b/w illus

Milwaukee Journal, January 9, 1959, b/w illus.

Milwaukee Journal, September 14, 1958, b/w illus.

Guinard, Paul. Zurbaran. Paris: les Editions du Temps, 1960, p. 248-249, no. 340, illus.

Soria, Martin. Shorter Notes. The Art Quarterly, Summer 1959, p. 148-153, 3 illus.

Yriarte, Charles. Two Zurbarans, The Assumption (cat. no. 43; signed: Fran De Zurbaran) and a Grey Penitent (from collection of Marquis of Leganes). Forward for Salamanca sale catalogue, January 1575 at Hotel Brouot, Pave IV.
Exhibition History
Zurbaran, Palazza dei Diamanti, Ferrara, Italy, September 14, 2013–January 6, 2014; Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels, Belgium, January 29–May 25, 2014.

Picasso and the Masters, Galeries National du Grand Palais, Paris, France, October 6, 2008–February 2, 2009.

Spanish Painting from El Greco to Picasso: Time, Truth, and History, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, November 17, 2006–March 28, 2007.

National Museum, Poznan, Poland, October 1, 2002–June 1, 2003.


This information is subject to change as the result of ongoing research.