This is a preparatory sketch for one of a series of eight frescoes that Giordano painted on the walls just below the dome of the church of San Antonio de los Alemanes in Madrid. The frescoes depict miracles performed by Saint Anthony, and this sketch represents one of the stranger episodes in his life. When a young man named Leonardo confessed to Anthony that he had kicked his mother, the saint replied that the foot deserved to be cut off. When Leonardo did exactly that, Saint Anthony miraculously reattached it.
Here, Saint Anthony stands on the steps in his monk’s habit, holding the newly restored limb of the swooning Leonardo. Like the other seven episodes in the series, Giordano designed this fresco to look like a tapestry held up by the two angels at the upper corners – they seem to be unfurling the picture so as to reveal the miracle to the congregation in the church below.
Saint Anthony was revered for his devotion to the sick and the poor, but here we see one of the stranger episodes in his life. A young man named Leonardo confessed to the saint, who was then a Franciscan friar, that he had kicked his mother. Anthony replied, ‘The foot of him who kicks his mother deserves to be cut off’. The friar may not have intended to be taken literally but, in a fit of remorse, Leonardo went home and took a hatchet to his own ankle. When Saint Anthony heard what had happened, he miraculously reattached the foot and healed the wound. We see him here standing on the steps in his monk’s habit, holding the newly restored limb of the swooning Leonardo.
This is a preparatory sketch for one of a series of eight frescoes that Giordano painted on the walls just below the dome of the church of San Antonio de los Alemanes in Madrid. All eight depict miracles performed by Saint Anthony. The church had originally been built for Portuguese subjects attending the Spanish court and was dedicated to Saint Anthony, who been born in Lisbon and was patron saint to the city and many other Portuguese towns. Like the other seven frescoes in the series, Giordano designed this one to look like a tapestry held up by the two angels at the upper corners – they seem to be unfurling the picture so as to reveal the miracle to the congregation in the church below.
This sense of a privileged insight into a highly significant moment is emphasised by the dramatic shafts of sunlight which break from behind the cloud and shine on the face and halo of Saint Anthony. It is enhanced still further by the figures in the foreground. They form an audience for the events on the stage in front of them, and also create a deeper, more dramatic perspective. In the foreground of the final fresco for which this was the preparatory sketch, Giordano added two more men and a flight of steps, which further add to the sense of drama, depth and distance.
Giordano was famous for his ability to work at speed – his nickname ‘Fa Presto’ literally means ‘does it quickly’ – and this painting shows the remarkable economy of technique which allowed him to do this. His bold use of white paint and highlights leads the eye around the picture and creates the key structure for the scene, from the edges of the steps and the framing curtains to the dramatic streaks of sunlight in the background, the bright dresses of the figures in the foreground and the helper holding the boy’s legs right in the centre of the painting. It is a simple strategy, but it creates a remarkably effective sense of depth and space, energy and light.
The church itself had been founded in 1604 as San Antonio de los Portugeses, but Spain lost control of Portugal in 1668, and in 1689 – a few years before Giordano’s commission – it was re-dedicated to German pilgrims at the Spanish court. Its name was changed to San Antonio de los Alemanes, which is still in use today.
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