Francisco de Zurbarán
(Spanish, 1598–1664)Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb
Oil on canvas
80 5/8 × 44 5/8 in. (204.79 × 113.35 cm)
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.
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