Franciscan Gallery – ST FRANCIS BY GENTILESCHI 1607

The angelic consolation of Saint Francis became a popular subject in the second half of the sixteenth century as a result of the church´s renewed appreciation of his mystical experiences, almost to the exclusion of the more picturesque episodes of the saint´s life that had characterised traditional iconography; for example, his encounter with the wolf of Gubbio, and the invention of the crib at Greccio. His visions, in particular the episode when he became marked with the wounds of Jesus´s crucifixion, were understood as both the sign and reward of his perfect conformity to Christ.

The parallel between the iconography of the Prado painting and the angelic consolation afforded to Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before his crucifixion is evident. Here Francis has collapsed on a rock and is supported by a blonde, youthful angel who looks lovingly down upon him, open wings spread across the picture plane.

A simple wooden cross rests on the saint´s lap and his left hand, marked with the stigmata, is held up for the viewer´s contemplation, as one frequently finds in paintings of the dead Christ. In this nocturne moonlight casts a silvery sheen on Saint Francis´s pale face and on the broad folds of his Franciscan habit, investing the scene with an ethereal quality. It is not known for whom Saint Francis supported by an angel was made, nor exactly when it arrived in Spain.

Previously the work was thought to have belonged to the painter Carlo Maratti, whose collection was acquired for the Spanish crown in 1723, but this is now known to be incorrect. Gentileschi painted this episode several times. Gentileschi´s style changed radically after 1600 as a result of his contact with Caravaggio, being known to have shared some artistic props with him, including such as the capuchin habit and some theatrical angel´s wings.

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