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The Funeral of Saint Francis
Sassetta
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Saint Francis of Assisi died on 4 October 1226, surrounded by his friars at the chapel of the Portiuncula, outside Assisi. Rather than in a tiny chapel, here the saint lies on a bier in front of the altar of a large pink and blue church, surrounded by friars, church officials and other witnesses.

This is the last in a series of eight scenes of the life of Saint Francis, which were depicted on the back of a complex altarpiece painted for the Franciscan church in the Tuscan town of Borgo San Sepolcro. Here, as elsewhere on this altarpiece, Sassetta has departed from the scripta, the written instructions given to him by the friars, which had simply asked him to depict the saint’s death. He also painted the verification of the stigmata (the wounds Christ received at the Crucifixion, which Francis also miraculously experienced). The change was perhaps prompted by a desire to portray Francis as a second Christ.

Key facts
Artist Sassetta
Artist dates active by 1427; died 1450
Full title The Funeral of Saint Francis and Verification of the Stigmata
Series San Sepolcro Altarpiece
Date made 1437-44
Medium and support Egg tempera on poplar
Dimensions 88.4 x 53.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought with contributions from the Art Fund, Benjamin Guinness and Lord Bearsted, 1934
Inventory number NG4763
Location in Gallery Room 52
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San Sepolcro Altarpiece

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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.

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