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Francisco de Zurbarán, Saint Francis in Meditation

Key facts
Full title Saint Francis in Meditation
Artist Francisco de Zurbarán
Artist dates 1598 - 1664
Date made 1639
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 162 × 137 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Major Charles Edmund Wedgwood Wood, 1946
Inventory number NG5655
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Saint Francis in Meditation
Francisco de Zurbarán

Saint Francis is shown meditating in a landscape, holding a skull in his hand. His hood is pulled back and the light catches one side of his face, marking out his strong nose and pronounced cheekbone, while the other side remains in deep shadow. He wears the fraying and patched robe of the Franciscans, the religious order he founded in the thirteenth century; all members took a vow of poverty.

The skull symbolises death and refers to the suffering of the crucified Christ – the focus of the saint’s meditation. But this is not a scene of quiet contemplation: Francis’s upward gaze, slightly open mouth and upturned palm suggest he is talking with God. His hands are marked with the stigmata, the wounds of Christ’s crucifixion. In the landscape background you can just make out a simple hut, suggesting that the saint is not in complete isolation.

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