1400 – 1500
Renaissance in Italy & the North

Bellini's St. Francis


Giovanni Bellini, St. Francis in the Desert, c. 1475-78, oil on panel, 49 x 55 7/8" (The Frick Collection)

Speakers: Dr. Steven ZuckerDr. Beth Harris


Your Comments (2)

Previous Comments

NC wrote on Thursday, May 03, 2012

Bellini's St. Francis painting (also called St. Francis in Ecstasy) is considered to be among the most metaphorical, complex, and unique paintings of the Italian Renaissance. It depicts St. Francis living in isolation; as stated in the video, when St. Francis was a boy, he threw his expensive clothing at his father and decided to live as closely to Christ’s life as he could in utter poverty. What’s represented in the painting has been debated, but what the video suggests is the most widely accepted theory: that, as a gift for his efforts, St. Francis is about to receive the stigmata, or the imprint of the five primary wounds of Christ’s crucifixion. What’s unique about this, though, is how Bellini portrayed this subject. Unlike preceding iconographic motifs, which would have shown Christ actually giving St. Francis the stigmata or a halo, Bellini painted St. Francis immersed in light, not only giving him a spiritual quality but also allowing the viewer to take part in the ecstasy.Another aspect of Bellini’s painting that was radical for the time was the size of St. Francis – he is small compared to the landscape. However, this was done deliberately, in order to symbolize St. Francis’ deep connection with nature. The painting contains many other symbols as well, including the donkey and the skull.The background in Bellini’s St. Francis painting is portrayed quite realistically, consistent with the naturalistic early renaissance style. However, the colors Bellini employed do not make the desert feel barren, but truly alive and filled with possibilities. Also, the clouds are absolutely gorgeous. As the video explains, they were different from other clouds painted at the time – Bellini used glazes, giving the clouds a translucent and “real” quality.

Jackie P wrote on Saturday, May 05, 2012

Overall, I love this painting. The evolution of the

Add Comments

We think Smarthistory works best when it prompts discussion. Please post (on-topic) comments.*

*All comments are moderated

To post a comment, you need the Adobe Flash Plugin. Download it from here.
This work is an open educational resource and This work is licensed under a Creative Common Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license.