When M was competing in the Triathlon Age-Group Nationals in Milwaukee this summer, the girls and I popped into the museum of art there on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Because they were remodelling most of the collection was inaccessible, but there were a collection of photos from items that are housed there.
This one in particular caught my attention.
This is “Saint Francis in his Tomb” by the Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán, sometimes referred to as the Spanish Caravaggio (no surprise that I like him, then!). Most of his work is on religious subjects; he has several paintings of Francis, one in the St. Louis Museum of Art very similar to this one, but I like this one best. Francis’s face is almost wholly in shadow, his attention squarely fixed on the skull he holds, and the stance of the right foot (no…left foot; thanks, Fr. J-J!) depicts him advancing directly toward us.
The power of the work, for me, rests in the tension between the depth of contemplation and the solemn inevitability. It welcomes us to a side of Francis which feels deeply true but rarely acknowledged.
(ETA: There’s an arresting simplicity in the overall composition. There’s a central brown scalene triangle imposed on a background divided vertically in half into light and dark with the darkness occupying central positions in the central triangle as well. The visual simplicity and structure adds a great deal to it.)