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"The Ecstasy of St. Francis", Oil by Francisco Zurbaran (1598-1664, Spain)
Born in 1181 or 1182 in Assisi as the son of a wealthy draper, he died in poverty in the same town on 3 October 1226. Francis' life of poverty, humility, selflessness and serene neighbourly love made the order of Friars Minor which he founded one of the most widespread religious orders in the entire western world. Following the council of Trent in the mid 16th century, St Francis was invariably portrayed as an ascetic, penitent and ecstatic monk, frequently dressed in the habit of the Capuchin monks and with a skull as attribute. Zurbarán's saint bears the entire complexity of this figure. This is Francis the ascetic, dressed in a brown habit, without signs of office or adornment. This is the humble Francis dressed in the colours of the earth. This is Francis the ecstatic monk, who has received the stigmata of the five wounds. His young face is raised heavenwards in contemplation, one hand placed upon his heart, the other on the skull, the sign of meditation. He is shown as a holy man of spiritual profundity and scholarly intellect, as reflected in his facial traits. Yet he is not a monk who is alienated from daily life and caught up entirely in his mystical passion, but a man close to life, as Zurbarán shows. His "portrait" is an allegory of faith and simplicity.