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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 1635-9
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 152 × 99 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1853
Inventory number NG230
Location Room 30
Collection Main Collection
Saint Francis in Meditation
Francisco de Zurbarán

This is one of Zurbarán’s most austere and intensely spiritual works. Saint Francis is shown kneeling in fervent prayer, his clasped hands cradling a skull. Shadow obscures his face, giving us only a glimpse of his features. He wears the robe of the Franciscans, the religious order he founded in the thirteenth century; its patched and tattered appearance draws to mind the vow of poverty taken by all the order’s members.

Zurbarán shows the saint in a moment of profound contemplation, his head tilted upwards and mouth slightly open. The skull is a symbol of death and refers to Christ’s crucifixion. Meditation on death was particularly favoured by the Jesuits, and saints contemplating skulls are frequently found in seventeenth-century Italian and Spanish painting.

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