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Francesco, Brother of the Universe

  • Francesco, Brother of the Universe

    Life and cult of Saint Francis through the artworks of the Uffizi Galleries

    Francesco, Brother of the Universe
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    Brother of the Universe

    More than eight hundred years after his birth, the figure of St Francis of Assisi is still capable of speaking eloquently to the heart of the 21st century man, as he is not only one of the best-loved saints by those of the Roman Catholic faith, but also a figure highly appreciated on an ecumenical level by the Orthodox and Protestant reformist churches, by the other large religions and by the lay world. It is by no coincidence that moments of inter-religious dialog continue to bloom around his figure and in the sanctuaries dedicated to his memory, reflections on man and on the world, moments of dialog and reconciliation.

    But why does the life of a man who defined himself as “Ignorans sum et idiota” (cf. Epistola  toti  ordini  missa,39, FF 226) continue to speak to people, centuries later, with the strength, immediacy and eloquence of a peer? We believe that this continuous contemporaneity derives from the fact that the heart of Il Poverello (or “The Poor little man”, as he was known) is not so much related to elements that depend on his own age, as to a pathway of full, authentic humanity. The most striking thing about St Francis is that he is a complete figure, a man at peace with himself, with his history and with others; a man with an ability to love that he wears on his sleeve, enabling him to forge genuine fraternal relationships with everyone, even including the ultimate “fellow man”, the Sultan; a man capable of encountering nature in that same innocence designed for Adam in ancient times.  This sense of humanity lived to the full speaks to people of every age and religious creed, arousing echoes of empathy, as well as a desire to imitate the saint.

    But these qualities are not just intrinsic characteristics, and the life of St Francis was not free from wounds and weaknesses; if we think about his conflict with his father figure, the recurring experience of failure of his worldly dreams, the difficulties encountered within the Order in passing from charismatic intuition to canonical structuring...the wealth of his humanity was the result of an uninterrupted pathway of interior healing, listening and meditation of the Evangelical Word and, above all, of his intimate relationship with He who is “ the greatest goodness, all goodness, every piece of goodness, who is only good” (cf. Laudes  ad  omnes  hora  dicendae, 10, FF 265), “giver of all goodness” (cf. Compilatio Assisiensis, 43, FF 1592), “our creator, redeemer, consoler and savior” (cf. Expositio in Pater Noster, 1, FF 266).

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    Over the centuries, the light of St Francis’ spiritual and human experience has charmed and provoked the world of the arts, especially - but not only - the figurative arts. 

    Since its origins, holy art has felt the need to depict the figures of the saints alongside that of Christ, mainly for liturgical purposes. The aim was to celebrate Mass in a way that would allow the faithful to experience communion with the triumphant church, uniting to praise God as one; this type of portrayal includes the most “iconic” ones of the saint, such as that by Cimabue in the Lower Basilica of Assisi, or even true icons present in orthodox places of cult (such as, for example, the fresco in the Greek Orthodox church of Panagia Kera in Kritsà, Crete in the 14th century à see image).      This first, essential model of representation was joined by another one: the narration of the saint’s life, presented as a model of Christian life; whether featured in a large cycle of frescoes (such as the one by Giotto in the Upper Basilica of Assisi) or a tiny series of scenes designed to accompany a large panel (for example, the Bardi Panel), here, sacred art becomes narrative and exhortative.

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    Much more could be said on the subject, but we would like to end with a quote from the Legenda Maior, in which the pen of biographer St Bonaventura da Bagnoregio proudly outlines the high point of Francis’ life: his receiving the Stigmata of Christ, on the mountain of La Verna. This account allows us to understand the uniqueness of the saint and the peculiar nature of his iconic representation.

    In this way, the true love of Christ had transformed the lover into the image of the beloved... Therefore, the angelic man Francis descended from the mountain: and he carried within himself the effigy of the Crucifixion, depicted not on stone or wooden panels by the hand of a craftsman, but designed in his flesh by the finger of the living Lord God.             (Legenda Maior,  XIII, 5, FF 1228)

    The Francis we are contemplating depicted in these works of art is himself the image, effigy of Christ. Francis himself is a work of art, created by the finger of the living Lord God! The love of the beloved brings about that conformitas that will make Francis of Assisi the Alter Christus. And, in our opinion, this is the most fascinating and effective key for ensuring an authentic interpretation and effective use of the Franciscan iconography: remembering, as if in a game of Chinese boxes, that the subject painted by the artist is himself a canvas, a panel, where the Ultimate Creator, through love, paints his own self-portrait.


    Brother Francesco Brasa Ordo Fratrum Minorum

    Guardian of the Sacred Mountain of La Verna

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    Master of Cross no. 434 of the Uffizi (Lucca and Florence, second quarter of the 13th century)

    Stigmata of St Francis


    Tempera on panel, Inv. 1890, no. 8574

     “I, little brother Francis, want to follow the life and the poverty of our highest lord Jesus Christ and his most holy mother and to persevere in that until the end."

    [From letters to St Clare, Testament]

    The unwelcoming landscape of La Verna in Casentino - the mountain offered by Count Orlando Cattano to Francis as a hermitage - is depicted as a series of sheer cliffs on which sparse wild plants grow.  Behind Francis, a chapel stands  high on the cliff, the first church of the hermitage, named after St Mary of the Angels.

    This is one of the most ancient depictions of the Stigmata of St Francis, the episode in the saint’s life that distinguished the biography of the poor little man from Assisi from that of all the other saints who had lived until then. Reliving the suffering of the Passion of Christ, Francis reaches the apex of a pathway in which he seeks to imitate Christ, and that identifies him as alter Christus, according to the Legenda maior written by Bonaventura da Bagnoregio, official biographer of Francis from 1266. The miracle, which occurred in September 1224, was only made public in 1226 when the saint died, in the encyclical in which his disciple, Brother Elias of Cortona, announced the passing of the founder of the Order to Pope Gregory IX and the Franciscan provinces.

    In the painting, Francis is pictured kneeling down with arms wide open, in a praying position, contemplating a seraph angel clinging to the cross. In Francis’ hands and feet, the spectator can clearly see the heads of the nails that caused the stigmata, according to the story of the miracle told in the first biography of the saint by Tommaso da Celano, written in around 1228, the year when he was canonized. Three rays of light shine down from the angel, flooding Francis’ face, indicating the ascetic’s spiritual interaction with the celestial vision, which caused the stigmata to appear. Instead, the wound on his side is not visible, a scar which, according to the story told by Tommaso da Celano, very few had the opportunity to see while the saint was alive, as it would have been hidden under his habit.

    The painting in the Uffizi is one of the images of Francis of Assisi that survived the order issued by the General Chapter of the Franciscan Order in Paris in 1266, to destroy all the effigies of the saint reproduced until then, together with all versions of his biography other than the Legenda maior. Of all the 13th century images of Francis known today, the work is a rarity as it portrays a single narrative episode, highlighting the exceptional nature of the miracle of the stigmata.  The image also features an inscription bearing the saint’s name in the bottom right of the painting, which almost appears an attempt to avert the possibility that Francis would not be recognized as the protagonist of the prodigious event.

    Nothing is known about the origin of the painting, donated by the merchant Ugo Baldi to the Accademia di Belle Arti of Florence in 1863. It is believed to be the work of a painter who trained in Lucca but worked in the Florence area in the second quarter of the 13th century, responsible for the execution of the Cross marked by inventory no. 434 in the Uffizi Gallery.

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    Bonaventura Berlinghieri (Lucca, known of 1228-1274)

    Madonna and Child with saints Peter, John the Baptist, Chiara, Andrew, Anthony of Padua, Michael, Francis of Assisi and James.

    c. 1255

    Tempera on panel, Inv. 1890 no. 8576

    “Most High glorious God,

    enlighten the darkness of my heart

    and give me true faith,

    certain hope, and perfect charity,

    sense and knowledge,


    that I may carry out Your holy and true command. Amen”

    [Prayer before the Crucifix]


    In the scheme of saints depicted under the group of the Virgin with Child, the second figure from the left is Francis of Assisi, identified by the inscription bearing his abbreviated name (S.FRA). Francis’ hands and feet are pierced with nails like Christ on the cross, a detail that has characterized his iconography since its origins. He is wearing a habit, the humble garment inspired by the shape of Christ’s cross, which became the attire of the Franciscans. Francis had not specified the color of the habit, limiting himself to recommend modest clothing, in discreet colors. Depending on the branches of the order to which the monks belonged, through the centuries, it took on different shades, usually variations of gray and brown. The hood, as the painting shows, was quite long and pointed, designed to imitate the used sacks folded and reused by Francis and his followers to cover their heads.    One constant in the Franciscan attire is the cord that that hangs down at the front, used to tighten the habit at the waist, displaying a number of knots visible: in general there are three of these, and they correspond to the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. According to the accounts of his peers, Francis had dark hair and eyes, and his head was shaved in a rather small tonsure, like those devoted to God, to differentiate himself from the learned and from the highest clerical hierarchies. His emaciated face is framed by a short beard, the unkempt beard of a man who obviously cared little for his physical appearance. His right hand is open in a praying gesture and holds the book of the Holy Scriptures, characteristic of saints who have carried out an important apostolic mission.

    In the painting, another two saints from the Franciscan order are portrayed. One is Anthony of Padua (1195-1231), canonized in 1232 and recognizable because he wore the same habit as that worn by Francis. The other figure, placed higher up and set apart, is Chiara of Assisi (1194-1253), founder of the female branch of the Franciscan order, who was canonized in 1255. In fact, the painting is the valve of a diptych which came from a Clarissan settlement, the convent of St Chiara in Lucca. It is attributed to Bonventura Berlinghieri, from Lucca, or a close collaborator of his, known as Maestro della Croce delle Oblate. One of the most ancient surviving images of Francis can also be attributed to Bonaventura Berlinghieri. Dated 1235, it is kept in the church of St Francis in Pescia (Lucca).

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    Beatrice Ancillotti Goretti (1879-1937)

    St Francis weds poverty

    c. 1900

    Pastel and pencil on paper

    Palazzo Pitti, Gallery of Modern Art, Giorn. 3629

    Inscription on bottom right: “I consecrate this flower of the soul to the holy memory of my Mother”

    "Holy Poverty confounds the desire for riches, greed,

    And the cares of this world.

    Holy Humility

    Confounds pride,

    And all people who are in the world"

    [Salutation to the Virtues]


    “The Saint, noting that poverty, who had been the close friend of the Son of God, was now rejected by almost the entire world, decided to marry her, loving her with an eternal love, and for her not only did he leave his father and mother, but he also generously gave away everything he might have had”.  This is how Bonaventura da Bagnoregio introduces the Saint’s Love for Poverty in the seventh chapter of the Legenda Maior, one of the central values of Franciscan spirituality.  The allegorical story of the wedding is also the moment which launches the departure point of the saint’s pathway that terminates with his receiving the stigmata at La Verna, definitively sealing his union with Christ. In his unique bond with Lady Poverty, the Saint extinguishes all other worldly desires so that “until death, the only riches he had were: a tunic, a rope belt and breeches; and he was content with this” (Bonaventura da Bagnoregio, Legenda Maior, VII, 1). Dante also offers this allegory at the beginning of the speech St Thomas dedicates to St Francis in canto XI of Paradise. Here he tells how Brother Francis, while still a young man, had gone against his father because of a woman and how, before the bishop and his father “he wed her; day by day he loved her more” (Paradise, XI, 55-64). The use of a metaphor attributing a female appearance to Poverty must also have been at the forefront of Beatrice Ancillotti Goretti’s mind when she created this work. Moreover, it is a rather rare subject, except for a number of earlier examples, such as the fresco of the Lower Basilica of Assisi.  The fact that the painter effectively used the Dantesque image of Poverty as a woman marked by the signs of time should not come as a surprise considering the temporal coincidence between the execution of the painting, which can be dated to the early twentieth century, and the almost contemporary participation of the artist in the Alinari Competition for the illustration of the Divine Comedy.  An endeavor shared with her beloved Giovanni Costetti, in pursuit of a neo-primitive sensitivity characterized by a strong asceticism. In this pastel work, it grafts the suggestions of international symbolism (from Arnold Böcklin to Puvis de Chavannes) on the dry style of the frescoes painted in the 1200s and 1300s.

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    Bruno Bramanti 

    St Francis preaches to the birds


    Oil on canvas

    Palazzo Pitti, Gallery of Modern Art

    Giorn. 5707

    Bottom left:  BRUNO BRAMANTI 1925


    “Praise be to Thee, my Lord, with all Your creatures"

    [Laudes Creaturarum]


    In the Franciscan Sources, collection of the main texts on the life of St Francis, birds are a recurring element in both the parables designed to present examples, and in the episodes of the saint’s life. In fact, his arrival in La Verna is celebrated by birds, and again, skylarks are the creatures that pay tribute to him after his death. Near the marshlands of Venice, St Francis was said to have gathered an enormous flock of birds together to sing the praises of the Lord. Then, there was the story of him hosting a family of little birds at his table, all scolded by the Saint because of the greedy, bullying behavior of their older brother. However, the story of the sermon to the birds is by far the best-known, and it had been handed down by Tommaso da Celano, the Fioretti florilegium and the more popular Legenda Maior by Bonaventura da Bagnoregio (XII, 3). Here we read about Francis encountering an endless multitude of birds on his way to Bevagna, and urging them to listen to the word of God and to sing the praises of the Creator:  “While saying these and similar words to them, the little birds, gesturing marvelously, stuck their necks out, spread their wings and opened their beaks, staring at him, mesmerized.   And he walked among them, with an admirable passionate spirit, and touched them with his cassock, without any of them moving away”. An image that immediately won the devotion of the people, and was immortalized by Giotto in the counter-facade of the Basilica of Assisi. In 1925, when Bruno Bramanti, who had trained learning about the masters of the 14th and 15th centuries, tackled this subject, he was well aware that his work had been preceded by a forerunner he could never match. Yet he decided to dialog with Giotto’s masterpiece, both in terms of the dimensions of his canvas, almost as big as a fresco, and in the composition, moving the two monks to the left and adding the branches of trees to frame the scene.  However, the presence of a simple cottage on the hillside is an extremely significant addition to the painting. It was almost a programmatic statement opposing that ideal of modern classicism which, in the Tuscany of the 1920s, was expressed in the charm of the countryside, reinterpreted in synoptic style (in this case the Polcanto countryside), but counterpointed by the tenderness of the details (such as the ineffable dialog between the Saint and the little bird). In any case, the execution of the painting dates back to the celebratory fervor experienced in relation to the seventh Franciscan centenary (1926), which also featured in the 15th Biennale di Venezia, where as well as Bramanti’s St Francis preaches to the birds, exhibited there for the first time, the well-known bust dedicated to the Saint by Adolfo Wildt was also presented.

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    Jacopo Ligozzi  

    The establishment of the second Franciscan order


    pen, brown ink, brown watercoloring, golden highlights on light brown paper

    Uffizi Galleries, Collection of Prints and Drawings, Inv. 1336 S


    "And I ask you, my ladies, and counsel you, that you always live in this most holy life and poverty.” [From letters to St Clare, Testament]

    The drawing portrays one of the Stories of the life of St Francis frescoed by Ligozzi in the lunettes of the Church

    of Ognissanti, that is, the consecration of St Clare and the birth of the order of Poor Clares.

    According to Franciscan sources, young Clare, member of the noble Offreduccio family of Assisi, was fascinated by Francis’ preaching and secretly ran away one night to the small chapel of Porziuncola, where she took off her own clothes, had her hair cut and put on the humble sackcloth tunic.  Her example was soon followed by many other women, including her own sisters and mother.

    The drawing, executed with subtle brown shading and precious gold highlighting, shows the moment when Francis welcomes and consecrates Clare, who has abandoned her fine clothes on a stool in the foreground on the left and is surrounded by female figures.   In the background, a crowd of spectators watches the scene through the wide open door.

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    Ludovico Cardi, known as “il Cigoli” 

    The meeting in St John’s Basilica in Laterano

    16th/17th centuries

    Black stone, pen, brown ink, brown watercoloring, traces of gray watercoloring on paper

    Uffizi Galleries, Collection of Prints and Drawings, no. 973 F recto

    “And I used to work with my hands, and I still want to work; and I firmly wish that all my brothers would give themselves to honest work.  Let those who do not know how to work learn, not from the desire to receive wages for their work but to set an example and to keep idleness at bay.” [from The Testament of St Francis of Assisi]


    The drawing depicts the meeting between Saints Francis, Dominic and Angelo of Jerusalem, respective founders of the Franciscan, Dominican and Carmelite orders. In the splendid architecture of St John’s Basilica in Laterano, on the left in the foreground, the three protagonist are engaged in an intense exchange of looks and gestures.  St Dominic, who can be identified by the star on his head, symbol of wisdom, is on his feet, observing St Angelo. The latter has his arms stretched out and is moving towards St Francis, who is kneeling at his feet with his arms folded on his chest. Various bystanders are watching the scene, most of whom sit round the figure of a Pontiff (perhaps Pope Honorius III), who is seated on another throne, with a canopy covering the top. Other figures can be glimpsed behind a half-closed curtain being pulled back by a person facing away from the beholder. A very faint sketch of an angel carrying a scroll hovers at the top.

    Ludovico Cardi, known as “il Cigoli” after his home town, was one of the most elegant Florentine painters active between the end of the 16th century and the early 17th century. Also an ingenious innovator in the graphic field, in his compositional sketches he enriched the sharp Florentine drawing framework by adding the pictorial and lighting effects typical of Venetian painting, making great use of watercoloring and a mobile, free graphic drawing style.

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    Domenico Falcini and Raffaello Schiaminossi on drawings and invention by Jacopo Ligozzi

    Description of the Holy Mountain of La Vernia


    Etching and burin engraving, printing with movable type

    Front cover, 22 illustrations and descriptions

    First edition, first state engravings

    Uffizi Galleries, Collection of Prints and Drawings, inv 4959-4981 st. vol. (vol. 61 bis)


    Having been sent by Brother Lino Moroni to La Verna in 1607, during his visit, Jacopo Ligozzi drew a series of drawings that illustrate the most significant milestones of the pilgrims’ pathway inside the sanctuary. In those years, the painter from Verona was occupied in Florence with another Franciscan commission, the decoration of the Large Cloister in Ognissanti Church.  This familiarity of his with the Franciscan Order, together with his well-known ability to realistically describe elements of nature, made him the ideal artist to portray the places of St Francis based on real life.   In fact, the drawings were destined to be translated into print for a publication dedicated to the Sacred Mountain edited by Moroni, then provincial minister of Tuscany, and dedicated to the Minister General of the monks, Brother Arcangelo da Messina.

    The volume slotted into the tradition of the religious travel guides, written to support the faithful on his visits to holy places, or, for those who could not personally make a pilgrimage, they offered an indirect experience.  At the same time - in the orderly sequence of letters that identified the places so that they would easily be imprinted on the memory - it was also linked to the current of mnemonics papers (De Luca 2008).

    If the work is unified thanks to the drawings by Ligozzi and the design of Brother Moroni, the prints are the result of the collaboration between two very different engravers, with different techniques: burin engraver Domenico Falcini and etcher Raffaello Schiaminossi. Composed of a front cover and twenty-two full-page illustrations accompanied by long descriptions, the work presents itself as an unusual visual guide in which the texts are accessory to the illustrations.  This unique structure was possibly due to the fact that the publication was incomplete, as in the original idea it was probably envisaged as a text offering a historical introduction to the sanctuary, which was never added (Bury, 2001, p. 66).

    The descriptions describe in detail the etched and engraved illustrations, complete with measurements and legends, marked by letters.  The pathway of the pilgrim at La Verna is presented with images that focus on the most important moments of the pathway of faith and approach to the “Mystery of St Francis receiving the Holy Stigmata”. And indeed, the front cover that opens the volume, illustrates the Saint showing the sores on the palms of his hands.


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    Raffaello Schiaminossi engraving, Jacopo Ligozzi etching

    General view of the mountain of La Verna with monk falling off the cliff

    Etching with burin engraving interventions, GDS 4960

    "Write that I bless all my brothers, those who are and who will be in the religion until the end of the world."

    The first illustration, composed of three sheets glued together, displays a general view of the Mountain viewed from “a quarter of a mile away, coming from the Casentino trip”.  This is followed by engravings about sites related to particular episodes - such as the Saint preaching to the birds, his temptation by the Devil, his receiving the stigmata - or meaningful places, including the cells, the various spaces of the sanctuary, the “rock split”, the so-called “bed of St Francis”, that is the rock on which he rested, hidden among the ravines of the mountains.


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    Domenico Falcini engraving, Jacopo Ligozzi etching

    Sasso spicco (Rock split)

    Etching with burin engraving interventions, GDS 4968


    "Since I cannot speak much because of weakness and the pain of my illness, I am showing my will to my brothers briefly in these three words.

    That is, as a sign of remembrance of my blessing and my testament, may they always love each other."


    If, on one hand, the description of the naturalistic details is, in the style of Ligozzi the draftsman, very close to reality, on the other, the lack of proportion between the tiny dimensions of the human figures and the immense size of the rocks, sheer drops, and trees, gives the landscape a dramatic tone. The terrible, visionary nature of some of the views recalls the mystery of the miracle that took place on the Sacred Mountain. According to the dictates of the Counter Reformation, this sense of the supernatural aroused wonder and fear in the beholder, who therefore tended to identify himself with the Saint and step into his shoes, also stimulated by the hyperbolic expressions contained in the captions: “Openings and splits of masses that are horrible to see”, the “Awe-inspiring Mass”, “a place that is frightening to behold, and to visit, given its terrifying height”, and so on.


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    Domenico Falcini engraving, Jacopo Ligozzi etching

    Place of the “bed” and oratory of St Francis

    Etching and burin engraving, Department of Prints and Drawings, Inv. n. 4976 st vol


    "May they always love and observe our Lady Holy Poverty And may they always remain faithful and subject to the prelates and all the clerics of holy Mother Church.”

    [First testament, Siena, April-May 1226]


    Some of the illustrations are enriched by cuttings of engravings superimposed on the prints as partially movable parts. As in a pop-up book, the reader can interact with the page, changing the view from “before” to “after”, and so viewing the various moments of an episode; or observe elements hidden from others, entering the scene as if it were a three-dimensional space.

    All the surviving drawings by Jacopo Ligozzi have today been distributed among various museums (including the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Louvre in Paris, the Getty in Los Angeles) and private collections.

    The sequence and characteristics of the engravings make the volume in the Uffizi a particularly rare specimen, and one of the oldest known to man.

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    Master of the Tondo Borghese  

    St Francis of Assisi receives the Stigmata

    Oil on panel, 103 x 81.5 cm

    c. 1485-95

    Florence, Uffizi Galleries, Palatine Gallery, inv. 1890 no. 5997


    “And those who came to receive life gave to the poor everything which they were capable of possessing and they were content with one tunic, patched inside and out, with a cord and breeches.  And we had no desire for anything more.”


    [from The Testament of St Francis of Assisi 1226]

    While [Francis] was staying in the hermitage, named “Alverna” after its location, two years before his death (1224), the same marks of nails he had just seen in that Crucified Man began to appear in his own hands and feet. His hands and feet were pierced in the center by nails, the heads of which were visible in the palms of his hands and on the tops of his feet, while the tips stuck out on the opposite side.

    This is how Tommaso da Celano described the miracle of the Stigmata in his “Vita Beati Francisci” (1294), the first official biography of Sty Francis of Assisi, commissioned by Pope Gregory IX, in which the figure of the Saint is celebrated as the alter Christus due to his spiritual message and the fact that he shares Christ’s physical sufferance.  In 1226, when Brother Elias notified the provinces and the Order of Francis’ death, he had written that “no similar extraordinary miracle had ever been heard of in the world, except for the one that occurred in the son of God, Christ the Lord. Not long before his death, the brother, Our Father appeared crucified, bearing on his body the five sores, which are truly the stigmata of Christ (Analecta, X, p.526).

    A beam of divine light shines from Christ on the Cross with the seraph, drowning St Francis, who is showing the marks of the stigmata on his hands, feet and side. Alongside him, dressed in the usual habit, drawn in at the waist by a cord with three knots, (referencing obedience, poverty and chastity), his companion Brother Leo, surprised by the miracle while intent on reading, shields himself from the flash of light that floods the landscape behind them, in which knights and monks, dazzled by the miracle, are visible.  In the background, the hermitage of Mount Verna, with its detailed architecture, stands on a rocky spur. A winding body of water flows behind it, possibly a reference to the River Arno, crossed by a bridge and populated by boats.

    The composition is derived - with a few variations - from the fresco of a similar subject painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the cycle with the Stories of St Francis (1483-86) in the Sassetti Chapel (left-hand wall) in the church of St Trinity in Florence. Although the author of the panel appears to be influenced by Ghirlandaio, he stand out for his blunt style, bold lines and very detailed descriptive flair. He was recently identified by Matteo Gianeselli (verbally) as the painter known as the Maestro of the Tondo Borghese, named after the painting of the Nativity in the Borghese Gallery, and identified as having collaborated with Pinturiccho in the frescoes of the Borgia Apartment in the Vatican (1492-95).   He also worked in Florence and the surrounding area, finding favor with clients in the countryside due to his ability to pleasantly blend his obvious Ghirlandaiesque influences with the ways of Cosimo Rosselli.

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    This prodigious episode is illustrated with effective incisiveness thanks to the powerful definition of the characters, the lively description of the landscape and the extensive luminism, in line with the stories told in the Little Flowers of St. Francis, “in this wondrous vision, all of Mount Verna seemed to flame forth with a dazzling splendor that shone and illuminated all the mountains and the valleys round about, as if it were the sun shining on the earth”

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    Florentine painter

    St Francis of Assisi

    c. 1325 – 1335

    detached fresco

    Uffizi Gallery, former church of San Pier Scheraggio


    “Where there is charity and wisdom,

    there is neither fear nor ignorance."

    [Virtue Puts Vice to Flight]


    Here, Francis of Assisi is portrayed as a young man - he was not much older than 40 when he died -, with the clerical tonsure and a short beard. He is wearing a brown habit, the sleeves of which are edged with short, light-colored threads, probably the depiction of fraying, or of a rough hem. This was perhaps supposed to add a note of realism to the portrayal of the humble Franciscan garment, created by reusing work sacks.   The habit is drawn in at the waist by the usual knotted piece of cord. In his hands, marked by the stigmata, the Saint is holding a book, probably the Gospel that Francis adored, attribute that had already characterized the iconography of the saint in the effigy painted by Bonaventura Berlinghieri in Pescia in 1235.

    The image presented here, painted in a fresco, decorates one of the columns of the nave in the church of San Pier Scheraggio, the ancient parish church incorporated in the construction of the Uffizi in the late 16th century. It was a devotional image, probably commissioned by the unknown female figure portrayed praying at the saint’s feet, on the left. We can only see part of her body and face, and her clasped hands. The painting, which dates back to the second quarter of the 14th century, bears testimony to the widespread diffusion of the devotion for Francis among the laypeople and in environments not related to the Franciscan Order.

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    Filippo Lippi  

    Madonna and Child with Saints Francis, Damian, Cosmas and Anthony of Padua

    c. 1445

    tempera on panel, Inv. 1890, no. 8354


    "Where there is patience and humility,

    there is neither anger nor disturbance."

    [Virtue Puts Vice to Flight]


    Francis of Assisi is sitting with his fellow monk Anthony of Padua, and the two martyred doctors, Cosmas and Damian, beside the Virgin, enthroned, who is holding the Holy Child. Both the Franciscan monks are wearing the habit in a light hazelnut color, tied at the waist with a cord. The length of the habit hides Francis’ feet from view and the only visible sign of his stigmata is on his left hand, which the saint is holding up to his heart.  In his right hand, he is holding a small processional cross to which the Crucifix is attached, a motif that appears in the saint’s iconography from the 13th century on, although in a more simplified form, perhaps a reference to Francis’ love for Christ, whom he even longed to imitate in the Passion.

    The presence of Francis and Anthony of Padua reveals the original Franciscan destination of the altarpiece, painted in the middle of the fifth decade of the 15th century by Filippo Lippi: it was meant for the altar in the chapel of the Novitiate in the monastery of Santa Croce in Florence. The chapel, which stood in the area reserved for young people about to take their vows, had been built based on a design by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo and commissioned by Cosimo the Elder, who was also the benefactor responsible for commissioning the altarpiece. For this reason, alongside the Franciscan saints, the holy patrons of the Medici family are also depicted, Cosmas and Damian, after whom the chapel was named.  The Medici emblem, the red balls, decorate the architrave at the top of the painting in the background.  The composition and setting, with a series of stone niches enhanced by a selection of fine multi-colored marble, almost appear designed to rival the altarpiece painted by Beato Angelico for the main altar in St Mark’s church in Florence, which belonged to the Dominican Order.

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    Francesco Raibolini, known as Il Francia  

    Madonna with Child, St Francis and St Anthony of Padua

    c. 1500

    Oil on panel

    Gallery of Statues and Paintings, Inv. 1890 no. 1898


    "Where there is poverty with joy,

    there is neither greed nor avarice."

    [Virtue Puts Vice to Flight]


    St. Francis, in the position of honor on the right side of the Virgin with Child, is highly recognizable because of the stigmata on his hands, depicted as bleeding wounds. His hands are crossed on his chest, as a mark of devoted tribute to the Saviour and Mary, and in his right hand he is holding the Crucifix, his traditional attribute. The saint’s face is characterized by its cleanshavenness, in contradiction with the 13th century testimonies and biographical sources. This new iconographic model was introduced in the last decade of the 13th century, when the fashion was for men to be cleanshaven, and beards were considered a characteristic of the uneducated, outcasts and lunatics. The depiction of a beardless Francis was extremely popular with the wealthy merchant bourgeoisie, and favored by the papacy and by the monastic Franciscan monks. Worried that the example set by the saint would foster uprisings amongst the lower classes, they were eager to stem the revolutionary power of the “poor little man from Assisi” and above all, his ideas about poverty. Instead, in the convents of the spiritual monks and among the customers and political factions that favored these, the representation of St Francis with a beard remained in use, not therefore as a mere attribute but as the expression of religious and political beliefs and claims.

    During the 15th century, both iconographic models remained in use.

    The painting by Francesco Francia, Bolognese painter who worked for Franciscan monks on various occasions, was sold to the Accademia Gallery in Florence by trader Felice Quartoni in 1818; it has been in the Uffizi since 1919. The painting comes from the Oratorio della Stretta in the hospital of the Compagnia di San Francesco in Bologna.


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    Federico Barocci, known as “il Fiori”  

    Saint Francis of Assisi receives the stigmata (preparatory sketch for the Pardon of Assisi)

    16th century

    pen, brown ink, black stone, paintbrush and diluted ink, white lead, stylus, stylus grid and black pencil on paper tinted with cerulean dye

    Uffizi Galleries, Department of Prints and Drawings, Inv. 9339 S


    "Where there is rest and meditation,

    there is neither anxiety nor restlessness."

    [Virtue Puts Vice to Flight]


    The drawing is a preparatory sketch for the illustration of St Francis in the altarpiece of the Pardon of Assisi, the great canvas depicting Christ in glory, between the Virgin Mary and St Nicholas reveal themselves to Francis, created by painter Federico Barocci from Urbino between 1574 and 1576 and today preserved in the church of  St Francis in Urbino.

    The scene, transposed onto a surface completely detached from any narrative element, focuses on the mystical apparition that occurred in the chapel of Porziuncola, after which all the devotees who had visited the sacred Franciscan location were granted the Indulgence. The Indulgence was reinforced during the 16th century by Pope Pius V (1566 - 1572), who commissioned the construction of the Basilica of St Mary of the Angels in Assisi, around the ancient religious building.

    A tireless sketcher, Federico Barocci studied each painting in great detail, performing an exhausting graphic exercise consisting, as in this case, of many studies and sketches repeated to achieve an exquisite end product.  The authenticity of this piece of paper has long been questioned due to the presence of elements added at a later stage: the saint’s face and part of the background were drawn by a different hand on a strip of paper then glued to the original drawing. Nevertheless, the drawing reveals an uncommon stylistic quality, which places it among the many studies on which the final painting was based.

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    Dominikos Theotokopulos, known as El Greco  

    St John the Evangelist and St Francis of Assisi,

    Oil on canvas
    Uffizi Galleries, Gallery of Statues and Paintings, inv. 1890 n. 9493


    "Where there is fear of the Lord 

    to guard an entrance

    there the enemy cannot have a place to enter."

    [Virtue Puts Vice to Flight]


    The large elongated and ascetic figures of the saints stand out against a cloudy, rough sky. Here St Francis of Assisi is depicted according to the descriptions of his biographer Tommaso da Celano, that is, with slim build, dark beard and slender fingers, wrapped in the unmistakable hooded tunic cut into the shape of a cross.  Through the centuries, Francis’ physical features were portrayed using these constant, easily recognizable elements; at times the saint is shown with the crucifix, in prayer, or receiving the stigmata, or holding the Gospel, in the role of novus evangelista. In the art of the Counter-Reformation, his portrayal developed - especially in altarpieces - showing the Virgin in the sky and Francis in the role of mediator of devotion, a participant in the divine nature of Christ.

    During his long career, El Greco tackled this subject several times. In the panel in the Uffizi the scene is portrayed clearly and simply and the saints, painted in large dimensions, almost resemble two individual depictions.  The pairing of St John the Evangelist with St Francis could be explained as the response to a request from those who commissioned the painting.

    Depicted in a three-quarter view wearing a habit in dark colors and with his open cloak clearly showing the cord with three knots that refer to the religious votes of obedience poverty and chastity, the Saint is showing the stigma, and so presenting himself as “similar to Christ”. When this panel was painted, El Greco had already completed his training, commenced in his homeland, Crete, an island that had become a hotbed of artistic production during the Renaissance when the Venetian rule favored the combination of Greek and western traditions. This experience was further enhanced later on by his stays in Venice and Rome.   The artist had therefore arrived in Spain with a rich cultural background which he had already transformed and revisited, translating it into his own, unmistakable style. At the beginning of 1577, he went to Toledo, where his works, with their strong spiritual themes, found great favor with the clientele, in a Spain deeply rooted in the Catholic faith. In those years, Toledo was the cultural hub of Spain, the linchpin of its literary and religious life: the likes of Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, Félix Hortensio Paravicino and the mystical St Teresa d’Avila all stayed there.  “El Greco”, with his strict faith, empowered by the confrontation between eastern Orthodox religion and Roman Catholicism, succeeds in depicting the spirituality of Francis and the mysticism of John, and in interpreting their inner torment.

    Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Francis
    Painting | The Uffizi
    Artwork details
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    Ludovico Cardi, known as Cigoli

    St Francis receives the stigmata

    oil on panel


    Uffizi Galleries, Gallery of Statues and Paintings, Inv. 1890 n.3496


    "Where there is a heart full of mercy and discernment,

    there is neither excess nor hardness of heart.”

    [Virtue Puts Vice to Flight]


    The episode of the Stigmata of St Francis is a hugely significant event in the life of the Saint and the history of the Church: a wonder that had never occurred before that made the poor little man from Assisi into the living reflection of the Crucifix and definitively confirmed his resemblance to Christ.

    The panel appears to faithfully portray the story established by San Bonaventura in the Legenda maior: Francis, having passed the night praying on the steep side of the mountain of La Verna, saw a seraph with six bright, fiery wings, among which a crucified man appeared: he was bowled over by a mixture of amazement, joy and pain. Amazement and happiness because he felt Christ looking at him, pain because he could see him suffering on the cross, until the revelation that he himself from that moment on, would be a “visible portrait of Jesus Christ Crucified”, bearing the same wounds impressed on his own body. The supreme spiritual experience is presented by Cigoli in the saint’s face, almost transfigured by a painful ecstasy: according to the legend related by Filippo Baldinucci (Cecchi, 1992, pp. 93-94 and bibl.) the painter recognized the devoted, honest face he wanted to give the saint in the features of a begging, needy pilgrim and used him as a model; once he had gone away, the man was never seen again. The beam of light coming from the seraph in the top right throws bright highlights onto St Francis’ rough, poor habit, illuminating the saint’s face and hands, the bare rock on which he is kneeling and the fallen book; in the shadows, a skull and a cross are faintly visible. Behind the saint, a tall, dark rock is visible, while in front of him other cliffs, overlooked by trees swaying in the wind reveal ravines and caves, in one of which the saint’s faithful companion appears, Brother Leo. At the end of the gorge, we catch a glimpse of the Basilica of La Verna, with its colonnade at the front and a lower building alongside it.  The setting is painted clearly and precisely, as is the vivid flash of light surrounding the angel. This matches the accounts of the shepherds and inhabitants of La Verna, who, on that September night in 1224, had attributed it to a fire. The two tender cherubs at the top of the work, painted with a softer, more mellow coloring, add a touch of Baroque loveliness to the otherwise dramatic scene, and appear to follow the beam of light that cuts diagonally across the panel, joining the wounds of Christ to those of the saint who would become his own “perfect” image.


    The panel with the Stigmata of St Francis, which came from the convent of Sant’Onofrio or that of Fuligno, is signed and dated 1596 and is one of the most beautiful examples of Cigoli’s mature style. In the 1590s, the painter, student of Alessandro Allori, who had taught him the importance of drawing, technique, and the study of anatomy, had begun to experiment with the new artistic trends that met the needs of the Counter-Reformation, using color and light to enhance the dramatic effect, realism and beauty of the work. He based this research above all on the works of Santi di Tito and Barocci.

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    Cristofano Allori

    St Francis in prayer

    First decade of the 17th century

    oil on canvas

    Uffizi Galleries, Palazzo Pitti, Palatine Gallery and Royal Apartments, Inv.1890 n.8743


    “The Lord allowed me, Brother Francis, to begin to do penance in this way: while I was in sin, it seemed very bitter to me to see lepers; and the Lord Himself led me among them and I had mercy upon

    them. And when I left them, that which seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of soul and body. And then, I lingered a little and left the world.”

    [from The Testament of St Francis of Assisi 1226]


    The scene is dominated by the figure of the saint, kneeling in prayer on a rock, alone, in a harsh, tough setting, made even more dramatic by the whirling clouds and foliage around him. In the distance, a small stone building appears, resembling the primitive Franciscan retreats, always built in solitary, secluded places. St Francis’ face and clasped hands are illuminated by a light source outside the painting. He appears fully focused on his contemplation of the small crucifix lying against the rocky wall: indeed, concentrating on the depiction of Christ on the cross had been the method favored by the saint to seek a direct relationship with God and satisfy his desire for intimacy with the Lord, since his first intense experience in San Damiano, when he had heard the voice of Jesus speaking inside him, appointing him to rebuild his Church. Prayer always plays a key role in the life of St Francis: it was through prayer and his meditation on the Passion of Christ that he obtained the grace to experience the power of God’s love for all creatures in his own heart, as well as the pain felt by Jesus in his Passion, until he fully embodied Him through the experience of the stigmata. The open book in front of the saint is probably the Gospel, the rule of life to achieve, which he advised the monks to read and practice directly “sine glossa”, that is, without referring to the various subsequent interpretations: a message of love that makes Francis an extremely contemporary and universal character. The painting by Cristofano, in view of the strong similarity of its setting with the “raw rock” of La Verna and the dramatic mood conferred to the scene, appears to refer to a specific experience of St Francis: the intense night of prayer during lent in honor of St Michael in 1224, at the end of which he received the stigmata, making him also physically similar to Christ.

    Together with Gregorio Pagani and Cigoli, Cristofano Allori was one of the reformists of Florentine painting at the end of the 16th century: indeed, he broke away from the formal academism that had distinguished his father Alessandro, Bronzino’s favorite student, preferring a more intense, dramatic style. Another example is the beautiful canvas with St Francis in prayer which came from Ognissanti and is now housed in the Palatine Gallery of Palazzo Pitti. It can be dated to the first decade of the 17th century.

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    Pieter van Mol

    St. Francis in ecstasy

    oil on canvas

    17th century (first half)

    Uffizi Galleries, Palazzo Pitti, Palatine Gallery and Royal Apartments, Inv. Palatina 1912 n. 93  


    "And let the brothers not say:  “This is another Rule”, because this is a reminder, an admonition, an exhortation, and my testament, which I, little Brother Francis, am delivering to all of you, my blessed brothers[..]”

    [from The Testament of St Francis of Assisi 1226]


    After the the Council of Trent, the depiction of St Francis underwent a considerable change, in line with the precepts of the iconography of the Counter Reformation. In the fight against Protestant heresy, the Catholic Church assigned to the Virgin and the Saints the role of mediators between the faithful and God, and when confirming the legitimacy of the cult of the sacred images, it called for an art that would illustrate the doctrinal principles clearly and simply, or arouse participatory emotions and sentiments of compassion and devotion in the beholders.  St Francis, who had just become akin to Christ, having received the marks of the Redeemer’s martyrdom, was one of the Saints that could best fulfill this function, and it is in this perspective that he was mainly portrayed in solitary contemplation or ascetic abandon in the Baroque period.  At the same time, the emergence of new Franciscan families, notably including the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, who professed a return to poverty and to their founder’s lifestyle, characterized by solitude and penance, focused the attention on representing the descriptive details of the Poor Little Man of Assisi that accentuated these aspects, such as his worn, patched habit.

    This painting depicts St Francis in the moment of ecstasy immediately after he received the stigmata on the mountain of La Verna, evoked by the “raw stone” in the background. The Saint is turning his gaze towards the sky, from which the divine light that illuminates his figure shines down. His hands clasped on his chest show the marks that made him “akin to Christ” that September night in 1224.

    Here, his usual attributes, the humble habit, with patches applied in various places and the rough cord worn as a belt around his waist, are joined by the rosary beads, the devotional prayer introduced into the Franciscan order after 1472, following the miraculous apparition of the Virgin to a novice.

    Another two objects have been laid on the rock: the skull, attribute of the hermit saints which, became popular in the portrayals of Francis as a symbol of meditation on the vanitas after the Council of Trent, the Crucifix, which played a key role in his experience of faith and a whip, a reference to his life of penance. His fellow monk further back on the right, half-hidden in the darkness that dominates the background, is Brother Leo, Francis’ companion and confessor in the last years of his life, who often appears with the Saint in the episode of the stigmata.  He is raising his right hand to his face, as if to shield his gaze from the divine light shining on Francis, highlighting his amazement at the miraculous event he is witnessing.

    Having belonged to the collections of Ferdinando de' Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany, and been cited in the Medici inventories as The ecstasy of St Francis on La Verna, attributed to Rubens, for a long time, critics considered the work as a cornerstone of Franciscan iconography painted by the Flemish artist. The discovery of the signature on the bottom right of the work, following a restoration, enabled the painting to be rightly attributed to Pieter van Mol, painter from Antwerp who worked at the court of Paris from 1613 until his death and was mainly known for his paintings of historical, or religious subjects. 


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    Giovanni Martinelli  

    St Francis held up by the angels having received the stigmata

    1635 -1645 (?)

    Black stone, pen, brown ink, light blue watercoloring on white paper

    Uffizi Galleries, Collection of Prints and Drawings, Inv. 1032 F

    "May the power of your love, Lord Christ,
    fiery and sweet as honey,
    so absorb our hearts
    as to withdraw them from all that is under heaven.
    Grant that we may be ready
    to die for love of your love,
    as you died for love of our love."

    [The Absorbeat] 


    The angels depicted as they support and comfort Francis in ecstasy was an image that gained ground in the post-Tridentine devotion and developed the comparison that already existed in the Franciscan sources between the figure of Francis and that of Christ just removed from the cross: like the Savior, Francis too bears the sores of the stigmata on his body, clearly visible in the black marks of the nails stuck into his hands. Held by the angels, stretched out for everyone to see, the saint’s wounds are exposed to the beholder’s glance, confirmation of the miracle that had just occurred. At the top on the left, the Crucified Lord-Seraph bursts into the scene among heads of cherubs, little angels in flight and fluttering scrolls. At the bottom of the drawing, Mount Verna becomes a rocky highland beyond which, on the left, a view opens up far off in the distance; here, in a stylized landscape, is the tiny figure of Brother Leo, witness to the miracle.  Below, the coat of arms displays the insignia of the Franciscan order which had commissioned the Sarteano altarpiece, composed of the arms of Christ and Saint Francis crossed in front of the Cross.

    The drawing retains the traditional iconographic attributes, but the image affirms the divine and supernatural nature of the miracle of the stigmata, accentuating its striking, spectacular elements without ever distancing itself from the text of Bonaventura da Bagnoregio’s Legenda maior, the ‘official biography’ of St Francis.

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    Jusepe de Ribera 

    St Francis in meditation


    Oil on canvas, 103x77 cm

    Uffizi Galleries, Pitti Palace, Palatine Gallery, inv.1912 no.73


    “If I had patience and did not become upset, true joy, as well as true virtue and the salvation of my soul, would consist in this”

    [Of true and perfect joy]


    The figure of the Saint emerges from the dark background, pervaded by an accentuated brightness that ruthlessly focuses on his face as he concentrates highlighting  his wrinkled brow and red eyes, then depicting with clear accuracy the rough fabric of hisbrown habit, the white thread of the seams, the bleeding wound in his side, and his bony hands holding the skull in a bold foreshortened view.

    The painting, with its strong pathetism, is reminiscent of the style of El Greco,  and reveals Neo-Venetian origins in the sensitivity of the color to the light. It has been acknowledged as one of the finest works in the vast production of half figures of Saints and Apostles by Jusepe de Ribera.

    The image is an effective memento mori, meant to provide food for thought on the caducity of human existence and the inevitability of death, interpreted as the “door of life” according to what the Franciscan sources say about the Saint’s passage.

    St Francis in meditation, or contemplating the skull, was an iconography confirmed in the climate of the Counter-Reformation when a drive to reawaken the pauperism of the early Christian centuries and invoke a return to compliance with the Rule of Saint Francis introduced the use of images based on the values of poverty and simplicity.

    And indeed, at the beginning of the 17th century, the depiction of St Francis isolated in meditation was disseminated with bold physicality by Caravaggio (Rome, National Gallery of Ancient Art in Palazzo Barberini), widespread in works where the intense realism is an essential stylistic premise for the work by Ribera.

    Having come from the collection of Prince Mattias de’Medici, brother of Ferdinando II de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany in the villa of Lappeggi, where in the inventory it is mentioned, correctly attributing it to “Lo Spagnoletto”, it was always especially appreciated in the Medici household, to such an extent that Prince Mattias and Grand Duke Cosimo III kept it in the intimacy of their bedrooms.

    St. Francis of Assisi
    Palatine Gallery | Pitti Palace
    Artwork details
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    Antonio Francesco Peruzzini, Alessandro Magnasco, known as Lissandrino

    St Francis contemplating a skull

    c. 1703 - 1704

    Oil on canvas

    Uffizi Galleries, Pitti Palace, Palatine Gallery, Inv. 1890, 6247


    Praised be, O Lord, through sister Bodily-Death
    From whom no living wight may ever flee.
    Woe unto them who draw their latest breath
    In mortal sin! Blest who Thy holy will
    Obey, no second death can bring them ill.

    [Laudes Creaturarum]


    The figure of the Saint emerges with light touches of color, in a dramatic chromatic tablature, entirely based on the earthy browns of his habit and of the surrounding landscape. The iconography of Francis contemplating the skull may have been inspired by a passage from the Canticle of the Creatures “Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no living man can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are those who will find Your most holy will, for the second death shall do them no harm”. According to the order founded by the Saint, the memento mori should not be considered as a way of contemplating the emptiness and precariousness of life in the face of the certainty and inevitability of death. but as an invitation to poverty and to the waiving of one’s own desires, since happiness awaits those who “will find Your most holy will”. The theme is part of a particular genre developed by Magnasco, that of the so-called “friaries”. These were almost monochrome canvases that mainly featured scenes of monastic life spent in extreme poverty while continuously praying and repenting. Themes that respond to the increasingly unrestrained criticism launched by laypersons and learned clergymen who, hoping for a return to the original life of poverty and prayer, theorized a reform of the religious orders and the entire ecclesiastic system. In this sense, Francis’ teachings and the pathway taken by his Order came to be perceived as a positive example, in contrast to the laxity and corruption of the Church.

    “Alessandro Magnasco was a painter of extremely vivacious brilliance. Not only were none of his peers capable of equaling his skill in soft touch painting, but neither were any of his successors.  This meant that this method, born with him, died with him, and was never revived again”. These words open the first biography of Magnasco, written by painter and historiographer Carlo Giuseppe Ratti in 1769 (“Lives of Genoese Painters, Sculptors and Architects.”) Alessandro Magnasco, born in Genoa in 1667, was the creator of a very personal current of landscape and “genre” painting between the 17th and 18th centuries, in which nature was depicted in such a way as to reflect the spirit of the scene. In the inventory of Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici (1713), the painting is remembered as the work of Magnasco’s for the figures and of Anton Francesco for the landscape. Born in Ancona, Peruzzini had soon left his city to complete his training and attend to commissions in Rome, Bologna, Milan and Florence; in Milan, in the last decade of the 17th century, he met Magnasco, with whom he forged a long partnership, which later continued at the court of the Grand Prince Ferdinando until Lissandrino’s death in 1749. In the work in the Uffizi, tormented nature is depicted using quick flashes and bright glares emerging from dark foliage, attributed to Peruzzini.

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    Domenico Trentacoste 

    St Francis

    (bozzetto for the monument in Piazza Risorgimento, Milan)



    Uffizi Galleries, Palazzo Pitti, Gallery of Modern Art, Giornale 4485


    "The Lord revealed to me a greeting that we used to say:  “May the Lord give you peace!”

    [from The Testament of St Francis of Assisi 1226]


    The large collection of works by Domenico Trentacoste, kindly donated to the Modern Art Gallery of Palazzo Pitti by Fernanda Ojetti, includes seven bozzetti in plaster that can be traced back to the long, arduous, conceptual phase of the monument to St Francis in Piazza Risorgimento in Milan. Strongly desired by the community of Milan during the celebrations for the seventh centenary of the Saint’s death (1926), the monument was funded by the offerings of the faithful and commissioned to Trentacoste, who worked on it without receiving payment for about three years - from 1924 to 1927 - together with architects Piero Portaluppi and Paolo Gadda (writer Carlo Emilio’s cousin). The two models (Giorn. 4490, 4491), which can respectively be identified as an initial and final study for the monument, document how, over time, the project remained faithful to the original idea of a large bronze sculpture erected on a tall base, and therefore visible from a distance. The bozzetti for the solitary figure of St Francis (Giorn. 4484, 4485) also confirm the choice of an instantly recognizable iconographic model with the habit, the tonsure, a tiny physique and a face modeled on that of Brother Cecilio Maria, very well-known at the time for his charitable works, and main fundraiser of the Order. If anything, the most striking feature is the Saint’s gesture, the way he blesses the entire city by stretching his arms out, with his hands bearing the stigmata in the foreground, the left one fully open and with only three fingers open on the right hand, to underline his condition as “alter Christus”.


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    Trentacoste again reaffirms the centrality of the episode of the stigmata, choosing also to depict it in the relief of the base, and to develop it in a number of bozzetti (never made into sculptures) immortalizing the Saint in the exact moment when he views Christ, with his hands covered in sores and his side pierced. (Giorn.   4486, 4487, 4488). The fact that a canonical portrayal was allowed to prevail reflects the ideal of pure classicism and communicative clarity sustained by the sculptor’s friend and critic Ugo Ojetti, who surely had a hand in the assignment of the monument in Piazza Risorgimento to Trentacoste, despite his age. A choice that was in any case perfectly in line with the traditionalist approach which, not without controversy, characterized all the countless monuments erected in Italy, in Rome, Bologna, Milan and Rieti for the seventh centenary. On the other hand, such celebratory fervor was also effectively based on the desire - shared by the Fascist regime and the Catholic circles - to make St Francis a cornerstone of the national identity, “the greatest Saint of Italians, the most Italian of the Saints” as Pope Pius XII would define him in 1939, when proclaiming him patron saint of Italy.

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    Historical Postcard

    Inauguration of the Monument to St. Francis in Piazza Risorgimento in Milan

Francesco, Brother of the Universe

Life and cult of Saint Francis through the artworks of the Uffizi Galleries


Introduction by Frate Francesco Brasa Ordo Fratrum Minorum

Texts by Monica Alderotti, Alberica Barbolani da Montauto, Beatrice Cristini, Laura Donati, Donatella Fratini, Cristina Gnoni, Daniela Parenti, Chiara Toti.

Saint Francis quotes in FONTI FRANCESCANE. Editio Minor. Editrici francescane, 1986

Coordinator: Monica Alderotti

Graphics and Review: Patrizia Naldini

Photos by Roberto Palermo and Francesco del Vecchio

Translations: Eurotrad Snc.

Please note: each image of this virtual exhibition may be enlarged for more detailed viewing.

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