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The Stigmatisation of Saint Francis
Sassetta
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Saint Francis of Assisi kneels in a rocky landscape, hands raised in prayer, gazing up at a vision of Christ floating in the sky. Christ has the six wings of a seraphim and his arms are extended as if on the Cross. Rays from Christ’s stigmata – the wounds he received at the Crucifixion – impress the same wounds on Saint Francis.

This painting is the fourth of eight scenes representing the life of Saint Francis that were made for the back of the San Sepolcro Altarpiece (seven are in the National Gallery’s collection). This was on the bottom row on the left, next to Saint Francis before the Pope: The Granting of the Indulgence of the Portiuncula. The Portiuncula Indulgence, one of the first to grant absolution from all sins, was controversial as it had not been confirmed by a papal bull. Franciscan writers claimed that God had granted Francis the stigmata as a visible sign of divine approval.

Key facts
Artist Sassetta
Artist dates active by 1427; died 1450
Full title The Stigmatisation of Saint Francis
Series San Sepolcro Altarpiece
Date made 1437-44
Medium and support Egg tempera on poplar
Dimensions 87.8 x 52.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought with contributions from the Art Fund, Benjamin Guinness and Lord Bearsted, 1934
Inventory number NG4760
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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