Doménikos Theotokópoulos, El Greco (1541-1614)
Doménikos Theotokópoulos, El Greco (1541-1614)

Saint Francis Standing in Meditation

Domnikos Theotokpoulos, El Greco* (1541-1614) and Workshop
Saint Francis Standing in Meditation
oil on canvas
41 X 34in. (105 x 87cm.)
Hermitage of San Blas, Burguillos, Toledo.
Parish Church, Burguillos, Toledo.
Marqus de Santa Mara de Silvela y del Castaar, Madrid.
M.B. Cosso, El Greco, 1908, p. 556, no. 38, as El Greco.
A.L. Mayer, Dominico Theotocopuli, El Greco, 1926, I, p. 42, no. 261; II, fig. 59, as El Greco.
M. Legendre and A. Hartmann, Domenico Theotocopuli dit Le Greco, 1937, p. 499, illustrated p. 367, as El Greco.
J. Camn Aznar, Domenico Greco, 1950, I, pp. 342 and 350, fig. 234; II, p. 1385, no. 563, as El Greco.
H. Soehner, Greco in Spanien, I, 1957, p. 151; III, 1958-9, no. 37, as El Greco, as with studio participation in the sky.
H.E. Wethey, El Greco and his School, 1962, I, pl. 278; II, p. 123, no. 224.
J. Gudiol, Iconography and Chronology in El Greco's paintings of Saint Francis, in The Art Bulletin, Sept. 1962, p. 201, as El Greco.
T. Frati, L'opera completa del Greco, 1969, no. 123, fig. 123.
J. Gudiol, El Greco, 1973, p. 345, no. 91, as El Greco.
W.B. Jordan, in the catalogue of the exhibition, El Greco of Toledo, Museo del Prado, Madrid; National Gallery of Art, Washington; The Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo; and Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, April 1982 - Feb. 1983, p. 237, under no. 21.
J. Alvarez Lopera, El Greco La Obra Esencial, 1993, p. 282, no. 96, as El Greco.
A.E. Prez Sanchez, in the catalogue of the exhibition, El Greco Conocido y Redescubierto, Fundacin Fondo de Cultura de Sevilla, Seville; Fundacin Central Hispano, Madrid; and Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturias, Oviedo, 1998, p. 39, as El Greco with 'possibly some workshop intervention'.
Madrid, Sociedad Espaola de Amigos del Arte, Exposicin Franciscana, 1927, no. 2, pl. 18.

Lot Essay

Although Saint Francis (1181-1226) had wanted to be forgotten after his death, requesting that his body be left on a rubbish-dump outside Assisi, his popularity grew rapidly after his canonization in 1228. The humanity of the rich merchant's son who renounced worldly possessions was recorded for posterity by such works as Saint Bonaventura's biography, authorized in 1266, as well as by the Saint's own writings. The order which Saint Francis had founded with eleven companions in 1209-10 grew until virtually every city in Catholic Europe had a Franciscan house. Already in 1316 there were 1,017 Franciscan friaries and 292 nunneries in Italy, France and Germany alone, and in the following centuries Franciscans rose to the supreme office of the Catholic church as Popes Sixtus IV (1471-84) and Sixtus V (1585-90). Saint Francis' message held a particular appeal in the age of the Counter-Reformation, and when El Greco settled in Toledo in 1577 the city had no fewer than seven Franciscan convents and three friaries, the most important of which was very near the artist's house. El Greco evidently shared his contemporaries' feeling of affinity for the Saint, whom he depicted in no fewer than ten distinct compositions, in which he evolved a new iconography in accordance with the dictates of the Council of Trent, emphasizing his extreme asceticism, devotion and humility in contrast with earlier representations. Francisco Pacheco, the painter, influential artistic theorist and future father-in-law of Velzquez who visited El Greco at his home in 1611, called him the greatest interpreter of Saint Francis of his time.

Of the ten different compositions which El Greco created for the depiction of Saint Francis, he treated the present format of Saint Francis standing in Meditation in only three originals (see Wethey, op. cit., pp. 122-3), including the present painting. The other two originals are located in the Joselyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska and the Federico Torell Collection, Barcelona. Saint Francis wears a cool gray Franciscan habit with white highlights and is presented standing in left profile, three-quarter length, meditating on a crucifix, which is placed obliquely on a rock while the skull lies to the left beside it. Saint Francis' right hand is placed on his chest and his left arm is outstretched. Behind him a rocky cavern acts as a background, and in the upper left hand corner the deep blue sky is streaked with jagged storm clouds, that are so typical of the region. The position of the hands and placement of the skull are repeated in the Penitent Magdalen in the Museum of Cau Ferrat, Sitges and the Saint Dominic in Meditation in the J.N. Brown Collection, Newport. The crucifix appears in the above mentioned compositions as well as in the companion piece to the present painting, Saint Jerome in Penitence (Fig. 1) in the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid, and in the Saint Dominic in Prayer, the Placido Arango Collection, Madrid. The carving of the sculpture is in the style of Leone and Pompeo Leoni. The similarities of the crucifix in so many of El Greco's paintings with different compositions suggest that he would have owned and used it frequently as a model.

Cossio (op. cit.) included the present picture in his 1908 monograph on El Greco, at which time it was displayed in the gospel wall of the presbytery in the Parish church of Burguillos, a village close to Toledo. He also lists the fully autograph companion painting Saint Jerome in Penitence which was hung directly opposite on the epistle wall (ibid., I, pl. 289; II, p. 133, no. 246). He cites the provenance for both of these paintings as the Hermitage of San Blas, also in Burguillos, so it is likely that they were installed in the parish church at the same time and intended as complementary images. In the early 20th century, the paintings were acquired together by the Marqus de Santa Mara de Silvela y del Castaar, Madrid. Various dates have been proposed for the painting of this Saint Francis standing in Meditation ranging from 1589-1614, but it is generally accepted to have been executed circa 1600. This is concurrent with its companion piece.

The saints are portrayed in accordance with the ideas formulated at the Council of Trent, personifying humility, penitence and meditation. In both paintings the saints refer to symbols of human mortality (the skull) and of man's eternal salvation through Christ (the crucifix). The two paintings were universally accepted as a fully autograph works until Wethey published the Saint Francis as an original but noted that 'the summary treatment of the brown background and the accessories suggests the assistance of the workshop in these parts' (loc. cit.). This may have been due partially to the old discolored varnish which covered extensive dark overpaint mainly in the cave in the background, obscuring the quality and vivacity of the palette in those areas. As a result of a recent restoration, the subtle highlights and gradations of tone throughout the painting have become more apparent, revealing its extremely high quality.

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