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Saint Francis in Prayer
Zurbarán, Francisco de
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Zurbarán, Francisco de

Fuente de Cantos, Badajoz (Spain), 1598 - Madrid (Spain), 1664

Zurbarán, Francisco de See author's file

Saint Francis in Prayer

1659. Oil on canvas.
Room 010A

We can identify Saint Francis by his habit, his rope belt and the wound on his right hand. He raises his gaze towards heaven and holds a skull in his left hand. A crucifix rests on a book in front of him in this scene that presents him deep in prayer as a direct result of his meditations.

Painted in Madrid in 1659 during the final years of Zurbarán’s life, Saint Francis at Prayer is a paradigmatic example of the subjects, narrative formulas and descriptive techniques that characterize that final stage in his career. In 1650, he began a decided effort to expand his palette and to obtain greater tonal unity, eliminating the highly contrasted lighting that had previously characterized his work. That change reflected a desire to update his style in response to the public’s new interests, and this becomes clear when we compare the present work with earlier depictions of Saint Francis. While Zurbarán continues to play with the dramatic effect and the descriptive possibilities of contrasting light and shadows, his use of chiaroscuro is considerably toned down, his modeling is softer and the composition is filled with light, which therefore expands the range of colors. Here, the artist eschews his previously predominant dark and homogeneous backgrounds in favor of a luminous blue sky that brings out the figure of the saint.

Still, in this process of stylistic transformation, Zurbarán retained the main qualities responsible for his fame: both the saint and the objects alongside him are depicted with extraordinary precision and verisimilitude, and the scene is imbued with a highly successful sense of intimacy, serenity and devotion. Unlike his earlier and more static works, this one emphasizes a sense of time: the book and skull, the saint’s hand on his chest, and his raised gaze eloquently and successively imply the stages leading from meditation to prayer, shifting the action from inside of the painting (where the book and skull are), to the heavens above, where the saint is looking. This work, which belonged to Aureliano de Beruete, allows the Museo del Prado to present one of the subjects most directly associated with Zurbarán in a work of the maximum quality.


Technical data

Inventory number
Zurbarán, Francisco de
Saint Francis in Prayer
Height: 126 cm; Width: 97.1 cm
Collection of Aureliano de Beruete, Madrid, 1905; Félix Valdés, Bilbao, around 1945; Collection of Plácido Arango Arias; Bequest of Plácido Arango Arias, 2015.

Bibliography +

Mayer, Augusto L., Historia de la pintura española, Espasa-Calpe, Madrid, 1942, pp. 343.

Soria, Martin S., The paintings of Zurbaran: complete edition, Phaidon Press, Londres, 1953, pp. n. 216.

Guinard, Paul, Zurbarán: état des problèmes, L’Information de l’Histoire de l’Art, V/5, 1960, pp. n. 359.

Gudiol, J.; Gállego, J., Zurbarán: 1598-1664, Ediciones Polígrafa, Barcelona, 1976, pp. n. 520.

Baticle, J. en: Serrera, J. M. (ed.), Zurbarán, Ministerio de Cultura: Banco Bilbao Vizcaya, Madrid, 1988, pp. n. 107.

Delenda, Odile, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1598-1664. Catálogo razonado y crítico, I, Fundación Arte Hispánico, Madrid, 2009, pp. n. 267.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Plácido Arango Arias. Donación de 25 obras maestras de su colección de arte antiguo al Museo del Prado, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2015, pp. n. 13.

Finaldi, G, 'Francisco de Zurbarán. San Francisco en oración' En:, Donación de Plácido Arango Arias al Museo del Prado, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2016, pp. 44-45 n.13.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Memoria de actividades 2015, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2016, pp. 52-53.

Ostrow, Steven F., Zurbarán's Cartellini: presence and the Paragone, The Art bulletin, 99 n.1 march, 2017, pp. 67-96 [83].

Martínez Plaza, P.J, 'Todo fraile cartujo ha de ser Zurbarán' Notas sobre el coleccionismo del pintor extremeño en Madrid durante el siglo XIX, Revista de estudios extremeños, LXXVI, 2020, pp. 233-260 [250].

Other inventories +

Inv. Nuevas Adquisiciones (iniciado en 1856). Núm. 2906.

Inscriptions +

Dated. Front

Exhibitions +

De la Edad Media a las Vanguardias. Obras maestras de la colección Félix Fernández-Valdés
06.10.2020 - 28.02.2021

06.06.2020 - 25.07.2021

On Tour through Spain
26.11.2018 - 08.12.2019

Temporal presentation: The Plácido Arango donation
07.07.2015 - 22.11.2015

Location +

Room 010A (On Display)

Update date: 30-01-2022 | Registry created on 24-08-2015

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