Adolfo Wildt (1868-1931) was born into a humble Milanese family and apprenticed at a young age to the studio of the sculptor Giuseppe Grandi (1843-1894). Between 1882 and 1887 Wildt learnt the art of marble carving from Federico Villa and from 1885 to 1886 he attended the Accademia di Brera in Milan. In 1894 Wildt met the German collector Franz Rose, who in exchange for an annual allowance received the first version of Wildt's sculpture. During this extended period of patronage Wildt was free to develop his distinctly modern style, drawing on Symbolist and Gothic influences. Following Rose's death in 1912 Wildt openly marketed his work, winning the Principe Umberto prize in 1913 and receiving sustained critical acclaim through the 1910s and 20s.
From 1921 to 1922 Wildt ran an art school in Milan which was organized like a medieval workshop and specialized in marble-carving. He was fascinated with marble and experimented with different types in search of an almost transparent, luminous, quality. For San Francesco Wildt used his favoured Rose di Gandolglia marble which is exceptionally hard and challenging to carve but perfectly suited to the expertly honed angular features and sharp lines. The light from the marble is refracted by the bronze halo combining to give the effect of an almost otherworldly aura. The bare-shoulders, elongated neck and tilted head recall the Gothic elegance of Wildt's 1915 bust Rosario.
Wildt is recorded to have made two marble versions of San Francesco, one of which was bought by the Marchese Paulucci de' Calboli and donated in 1931 to the Museo Civico di Forli. The present lot is believed to be the only other example, which was exhibited at the 1926 Venice Biennale and remained in a private collection until being acquired by the present owner.