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Art Curatorial

From the Collection–Francisco de Zurbarán’s Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb

Francisco de Zurbarán (Spanish, 1598–1664). Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb, 1630/34. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase. Photo credit John R. Glembin
Francisco de Zurbarán (Spanish, 1598–1664). Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb, 1630/34. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase. Photo credit John R. Glembin

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s painting by Francisco de Zurbarán (Spanish, 1598–1664), Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb, has been popular with museum goers since it entered the collection in 1958. This is probably not surprising, since Zurbarán’s work is infused with a humanity that connects instantly with viewers.

Some of this power derives from the fact that Zurbarán based his painting style on traditional polychrome sculptures found in Spanish churches. Just like his better-known contemporary, Diego Velazquez (Spanish, 1599–1660), Zurbarán’s hyper-realistic paintings helped to inspire devotion in seventeenth-century Catholic Spain. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at how Zurbarán inspired devotion not only in seventeenth-century Spain, but also how he does it today.

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Art

From the Collection–Francisco de Zurbarán’s “St. Francis”

Francisco de Zurbarán, Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb, ca. 1630/34. Purchase M1958.70. Photo credit John Nienhuis, Dedra Walls
Francisco de Zurbarán, Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb, ca. 1630/34. Purchase M1958.70. Photo credit John Nienhuis, Dedra Walls
Ever wondered what it’s like to experience a religious epiphany? Just walk into Gallery 6 and look to Francisco de Zurbarán’s St. Francis of Assisi in His Tomb, one of the great masterpieces in the Museum’s Collection. St. Francis towers above us in a massive, stark painting, lit only by unseen torchlight, his face hidden and a skull cradled in his palms. The space is unclear, the colors muted. He is monumental, and walks towards us: his foot pokes out of his robes, entering into our space. When I stand in front of this painting, I always feel like I should take a step back and get out of his way.