St Francis in Meditation thumbnail 1
St Francis in Meditation thumbnail 2
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Europe 1600-1815, Room 7, The Sheikha Amna Bint Mohammed Al Thani Gallery

This object consists of 2 parts, some of which may be located elsewhere.

St Francis in Meditation

Oil Painting
Late 17th century (painted)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

Francisco de Herrera y Velarde (active 1640-1670, died 1694) was a Spanish painter who embarked for Bolivia around 1563 and settled in Potosì. Very little is known about his life but his oeuvre shows a predilection for religious Baroque subjects.

This painting is a fine example of the Counter-Reformation imagery which favoured direct, simple and realist representation of religious subjects. This work portrays St Francis of Assisi in meditation before a crucifix. A skull in front of him is a reminder of the brevity of life and the subsequent necessity to meditate upon death. This painting was probably made for private devotion.


Object details
Categories
Object type
Parts
This object consists of 2 parts.

  • Oil
  • Frame
Materials and techniques
Oil on canvas
Brief description
Oil on canvas, 'St Francis in Meditation', painted by a follower of Francisco de Herrera y Velarde, Bolivian school, late 17th century.
Physical description
St Francis, turned to the left, before a crucifix and skull, with stigmata on his hands and tears in his eyes.
Dimensions
  • From base of frame to top of frame height: 82cm
  • Across top of frame width: 62.5cm
  • Across the depth of the frame depth: 5cm
Style
Gallery label
St Francis Weeping Before a Crucifix 1675–1700 This painting was probably made for private devotion. The skull is a symbol of mortality. The vivid depiction of Christ’s wounds encourages the viewer to contemplate his sacrifice, which Catholics believe redeems sinners. This painter worked in the style of the Spanish artist Francisco de Herrera, who emigrated to the Viceroyalty of Peru. Alto Perú, now Bolivia (Potosí) Oil on canvas(09.12.2015)
Object history
Transferred from Indian Section, 1966



Historical significance: This painting was transferred from the Indian section in 1966 and its provenance could not be traced before that date.

The painting portrays St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscans, an important mendicant order, in prayer before a crucifix. This is a fine example of the Counter-Reformation imagery, which prescribed directness and realism in the representation of religious subjects. Here the painter enhanced the emaciated features of the saint's face, due to privations and mortifications he voluntarily endured at the end of his life he devoted to meditating on the suffering of the crucified Christ. The skull just behind the crucifix is a memento mori, which contemplation aims at reminding the brevity and vanity of life. On the skull lies the cotton belt of the saint he used to mortify his flesh in sign of penitence and repentance.

This composition may derived from Italian models such as Ludovico Cigoli's St Francis, late 1590s, The Hermitage, St Petersburg, but the exact prototype could not be traced. P.28-1966 also shares a striking resemblance with a Penitent Magdalene in the Thoma collection, Kenilworth, Illinois. This composition is a copy after Tintoretto's Penitent Magdalene in the Pinacoteca Capitolina, Rome. In both paintings, the figures are depicted with sharp features and hard contours modelled with a strong chiaroscuro. The tears are depicted exactly in the same way and the flesh is in both modelled by superimposed areas of light and shade.

This style is somewhat reminiscent of Francisco Herrera y Velarde, a Spanish painter who arrived in Potosí, Bolivia, around 1653 and died there in 1594. Several examples of his works can be found in the Museo de la Casa Nacional de Moneda, Potosì. He may have brought with him examples of Italian art from the late 16th century, a repertory that may have spread among his followers. South America was pervaded with an intense sense of religiosity, favouring such dramatic imagery, and pictures of this kind were probably made for private devotion.
Historical context
Objects and images were used for protection, intercession and as votive offerings since Antiquity. Amulets, rings and talismans were common throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and often had pagan and erotic imagery. Popular images were also produced expressly for the purpose of intercession, protection and instruction. In particular the Virgin, Christ and the saints were depicted, for they were considered to be advocates before God and agents of protection against evil. Christians in the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods expressed and strengthened their faith through public rituals, such as celebration of the Eucharist, and personal devotions conducted in a private chapel, monastic cell, or simply in a secluded part of their home. In Western Europe, a form of spirituality that emphasized the emotional involvement of the faithful emerged by 1300. Believers were encouraged to contemplate events from the life of Christ, the Virgin, or the saints, as if they were present. Images of the Virgin and Child were among the most popular images for private devotion and these were primarily small religious paintings suitable as a focus for private worship, as opposed to larger altarpieces intended for public display. Such images frequently emphasized the tender relationship between the mother and her child.
Subjects depicted
Summary
Francisco de Herrera y Velarde (active 1640-1670, died 1694) was a Spanish painter who embarked for Bolivia around 1563 and settled in Potosì. Very little is known about his life but his oeuvre shows a predilection for religious Baroque subjects.



This painting is a fine example of the Counter-Reformation imagery which favoured direct, simple and realist representation of religious subjects. This work portrays St Francis of Assisi in meditation before a crucifix. A skull in front of him is a reminder of the brevity of life and the subsequent necessity to meditate upon death. This painting was probably made for private devotion.
Bibliographic references
  • C.M. Kauffmann, Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 268, cat. no. 332.
  • Dept. of Prints & Drawings and Dept. of Paintings, Accessions 1966, p. 149.
  • J. de Mesa and T. Gilbert, Holguín y la pintura virreinal en Bolivia, La Paz: 1977.
  • S. Stratton-Pruitt, dir., The Virgin, saints and angels: South American paintings 1600-1825 from the Thoma collection, Milan-Stanford: 2006.
Collection
Accession number
P.28-1966

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Record createdApril 27, 2006
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