Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
Der Hl. Franziskus in Ekstase, ca. 1650
Around 1650, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo painted various depictions of Saint Francis of Assisi, revealing the degree of devotion to that saint in Seville's Counter Reformation circles. Those images followed a 1645 series dedicated to Franciscan saints for the small cloister at that city's Convent of San Francisco. This study is rendered in black pencil and red chalk, a technique derived from sixteenth-century Italian drawings that was frequently employed by Murillo. It is related to a painting now at Seville's Museo de Bellas Artes depicting Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata. The painting measures 78 3/4 x 64 1/2 inches (200 x 164 cm) and was almost certainly intended for an unidentified altar at a Sevillian church. Dating from Murillo's first period of artistic activity, around 1650, the painting was sold to the Museum by the descendents of Captain Diego Maestre of Seville, who maintain that it belonged to him in the late seventeenth century. The saint's head appears again, with barely any variation, in Saint Francis Praying, a similar work at Antwerp Cathedral that is also attributed, though not unanimously, to Murillo.
A rapid pen-and-ink sketch of a first idea closely linked to the painting was part of the so-called Alcubierre Album, now in the Abelló Collection in Madrid, which was assembled in Seville in the mid-eighteenth century by the second Count of Águila. This first rapid idea varies somewhat from the final painting and may have been followed by the drawing presented here, which is now cut but may originally have presented the entire figure. In this case, it does not appear to be one of the numerous drawings attributed to Murillo that replicate and copy his finished works. Instead, its characteristics indicate that it may have been a preparatory study, as Diego Angulo Iñiguez (1975) and Jonathan Brown (1976 and 2012), and more recently, Manuela Mena Marqués (2014) believe. Its provenance differs from those found in the Baron of Saint Helens' volume, which was sold in London in 1840, and which contained most of the drawings by Murillo, or one of his disciples, that replicate the artist's figures and compositions for an album intended to illustrate his works. The latter belonged to Flemish merchant Nicolás de Omazur in the late seventeenth century, and all of its drawings were made on the same fine, grayed white paper. This work, however, has a different color and a much more marked and rough texture. Moreover, while some of those replicas were made with black pencil and red chalk, they are all much more detailed and meticulous, while the present figure of Saint Francis is more freely drawn, with soft contours, rapid shading, and less concern for detail. Black and red marks on the page to test the width of the pencil point, careless oil stains, and the small pen-and-ink zigzag indicate that the author was not concerned with a perfect presentation, but rather with the elements of the figure he intended to transfer to canvas. In that sense, the sort of small variations that occur between this drawing and the painting do not appear in replicas of finished works. This study of Saint Francis must have constituted the artist's model for the definitive painting, but he unquestionably exercised his freedom when transferring it, making the necessary changes in the final work. Those variations are visible in the folds of the saint's habit, his rope belt, and, in this case, his hair, the central curl of which has a more archaic character than the painting, as well as the volume and shape of his beard. The face reveals Murillo's skill as a draftsman with a methodical technique for establishing its proportions. Small dots and strokes precisely locate the eyes, tip of the nose, and corners of the mouth, conveying Saint Francis's ecstatic expression with greater depth than in the painting.
Manuela B. Mena Marqués
1 Mena Marqués 2014, no. 8.