Eighty-nine

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Saint Francis Standing in Ecstasy

about 1640 by Francisco de Zurbarán
Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona

Part of the National Gallery’s The Sacred Made Real exhibition, Saint Francis Standing in Ecstasy was one of two similar paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán that hung adjacent to one another. Both of these largely dominating portraits feature their subjects standing half in shadow; figures strangely materialising from the darkness that lies densely behind them. This ghost-like, darkly imposing, presence is encouraged by the dimly-lit room they hung in; almost blending into the dark walls, the figures appeared to emerge from the black impressively, hyper-real in their execution. For it is their style that makes them so distinctive, a clinically accurate depiction, sharply contrasting to the black void behind. So realist is this way of painting, it appears to be almost before its time, so undistracted are the portraits on the simplicity of their background. Saint Francis himself is beautifully portrayed; standing perfectly still, no part of his body betraying movement, he is frozen in prayer, in ecstasy, eyes looking up to Heaven. Although half his face is absorbed into shadow, his expression is perfectly conveyed; lips slightly parted, it is one of absorbed wonderment, sobered with concentration. Folds of his simple cloaking, bright in a warmth of earthy brown in light and dark in deeply cast shadow, give a dramatic quality to his stature; his rope gently hanging, reminding of his dedication. If you missed Zurbarán in London, follow him to Barcelona.

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