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Sassetta, 'Saint Francis renounces his Earthly Father', 1437-44

Key facts
Full title Saint Francis renounces his Earthly Father
Artist Sassetta
Artist dates active by 1427; died 1450
Series San Sepolcro Altarpiece
Date made 1437-44
Medium and support Egg tempera on poplar
Dimensions 87.5 × 52.4 cm
Acquisition credit Bought with contributions from the Art Fund, Benjamin Guinness and Lord Bearsted, 1934
Inventory number NG4758
Location Gallery F
Collection Main Collection
Saint Francis renounces his Earthly Father

Under the arches of a pink arcade, Bishop Guido of Assisi wraps his cloak around the naked Saint Francis of Assisi. The saint’s discarded boots, shirt and hose lie in a heap on the floor. To the left, Francis’s father, enraged by his son’s rejection of their wealthy lifestyle, has snatched up the costly red robe.

This is the second of eight panels from the back of the San Sepolcro Altarpiece, a large and magnificent polyptych (multi-panelled altarpiece) painted for the Franciscan friars of Borgo San Sepolcro; seven of these scenes are in the National Gallery’s collection. This painting originally sat next to one showing Francis giving his clothes to a poor knight. It depicts the next step in the saint’s renunciation of the world, a kind of inverse ‘rags to riches’ story.

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San Sepolcro Altarpiece


These paintings were once part of one of the largest and most splendid altarpieces of the early Italian Renaissance. Made up of almost 60 panels, the double-sided altarpiece was painted for the high altar of San Francesco in Borgo San Sepolcro, a town near Arezzo. The back, which was seen primarily by the friars, showed Saint Francis in glory surrounded by eight scenes of his life, seven of which are in the National Gallery’s collection.

Unusually, surviving documents tell us a lot about how it was commissioned, constructed and paid for. The project was begun in 1426 but had foundered, and in September 1437 Sassetta took over. In early 1439 two friars visited him in Siena, bringing the scripta, a document stating what he was to depict. Although they provided the text, the artist provided the imagination: the scripta states that the friars, themselves artisans, and the painter together should decide on the details.