St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata

Date: c.1427
Style: Northern Renaissance
Genre: religious painting
Media: oil, panel
Location: Sabauda Gallery, Turin, Italy

Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata is the name given to two unsigned paintings completed around 1428–32 that art historians usually attribute to the Flemish artist, Jan van Eyck. The panels are nearly identical, apart from a considerable difference in size. Both are small paintings: the larger measures 29.3 cm x 33.4 cm and is in the Sabauda Gallery in Turin, Italy; the smaller panel is 12.7 cm x 14.6 cm and in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The earliest documentary evidence is in the 1470 inventory of Anselme Adornes of Bruges’s will; he may have owned both panels. From the 19th to mid-20th centuries, most scholars attributed them either to a pupil or follower of van Eyck’s working from a design by the master. The paintings show a famous incident from the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, who is shown kneeling by a rock as he receives the stigmata of the crucified Christ on the palms of his hands and soles of his feet. Behind him are rock formations, shown in great detail, and a panoramic landscape that seems to relegate the figures to secondary importance. This treatment of Francis is the first such to appear in northern Renaissance art. The arguments attributing the works to van Eyck are circumstantial and based mainly on the style and quality of the panels. A later, third version is in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, but is weaker and strays significantly in tone and design. Between 1983 and 1989 the paintings underwent technical examination and were extensively restored and cleaned. Technical analysis of the Philadelphia painting established that the wood panel comes from the same tree as that of two paintings definitively attributed to van Eyck, and that the Italian panel has underdrawings of a quality that it is thought could only have come from him. After nearly 500 years, the paintings were reunited in 1998 in an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Today the consensus is that both were painted by the same hand. The paintings may have belonged to the Adornes family of Bruges. A copy of a will written in 1470 by Anselme Adornes, a member of one of the leading families in Bruges, was found in 1860. As he left for pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Adornes bequeathed to his two daughters in convents two paintings he describes as by van Eyck. He described one as “with a portrait of St Francis, made by the hand of Jan van Eyck”, (“een tavereele daerinne dat Sint-Franssen in portrature van meester Ians handt van Heyck ghemaect staet”). Anselme may have inherited the paintings from his father Pieter or uncle Jakob, who had travelled to Jerusalem on pilgrimage about 50 years earlier, returning to Ghent around 1427 or 1428. On their return the Adornes brothers funded a replica of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre built in Bruges, known as the Jerusalem chapel. They may also have commissioned the two St Francis paintings as commemoration of the pilgrimage, in the fashion of the Eyckian The Three Marys at the Tomb – attributed to Jan’s brother Hubert – a painting which may have been commissioned to commemorate a successful pilgrimage. An alternative theory is that they had the small painting prepared as a portable devotional work to bring on pilgrimage. The ownership of private devotional pieces was not uncommon – the often itinerant Philip the Good kept an altarpiece for travelling. Even more intriguing is that Philip had van Eyck paint two identical betrothal portraits of Isabella of Portugal in 1428 – to ensure one survived the trip from Portugal – which may have set a precedent that Bruges art patrons sought to emulate. Anselme Adornes almost certainly brought the smaller painting with him on pilgrimage in 1470; it was seen in Italy, particularly in Florence, and widely copied. In the early 1470s Sandro Botticelli, Verrochio, Filippino Lippi and Giovanni Bellini each produced variations of St Francis Receiving the Stigmata that included motifs from van Eyck’s version, especially evident in the rendering of the rocky background.
Back to Top

Log In

Forgot password?

Forgot password?

Enter your account data and we will send you a link to reset your password.

Your password reset link appears to be invalid or expired.

Log in

Privacy Policy

To use social login you have to agree with the storage and handling of your data by this website.

Add to Collection

No Collections

Here you'll find all collections you've created before.


I love you, Lord, my strength. Psalm 18:1