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Saint Francis of Assisi in the Portiuncula
Carracci, Ludovico
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Carracci, Ludovico

Bologna, 1555 - Bologna, 1619

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Saint Francis of Assisi in the Portiuncula

1601 - 1603. Oil on canvas.
Room 005

Saint Francis is one of the most venerated of all Christian saints. Born in 1182, he chose a religious life after a youth filled with empty pleasures and frolicking. He was followed by a considerable number of disciples, who congregated in Portiuncula, a small hermitage in the foothills of Assisi where Francis spent most of his life, and where he died in 1226. Portiuncula is also the site of the miracle traditionally associated with this painting, which is based on a legend from the life of Saint Benedict. Its origins date back to the fourteenth century, although it was only exploited during and after the Catholic Counter-Reformation, when the traditional iconography that depicts Francis as a saint in harmony with the world was transformed to present him as an ascetic, emphasising his visionary episodes and his inclination towards the sacrifices of penance. In that episode, burdened with the cardinal sin of lechery, Francis decided to roll over some thorn bushes to assuage his carnal appetites with pain. Legend has it that red roses sprang up where drops of his blood hit the ground, and that he used their blossoms as a votive offering at Portiuncula. Francis later petitioned Pope Innocence III for full plenary or Jubilee indulgence for all those who made a pilgrimage to the hermitage.

Saint Francis of Assisi in the Portiuncula c.1601–03, depicts Francis in a state of rapture as the Virgin, Saint John the Baptist and a band of angels appear to him. The customary interpretation is that the saint was praying for divine intervention to obtain indulgences for all who visited the hermitage, although this image contains none of the traditional iconographic elements associated with the so-called Jubilee of Portiuncula, such as roses or a depiction of Francis lying on thorn bushes.

Moreover, Ludovico Carracci eschews the ongoing tradition of portraying that scene inside the hermitage, opting instead for an outdoor setting at night.

This painting has also been linked to a drawing by the same artist, now at the Musée du Louvre, Paris, in which the saint`s gestures are more exaggerated -arms open, rather than crossed over his chest- and Christ points to heaven, rather than to the saint. Given that the painting invites the viewer to adopt Francis`s pious and concentrated attitude towards his vision, it seems likely that Ludovico was actually depicting one of Francis`s many visions, which were more the basis for his canonisation in 1228 than the Jubilee of Portiuncula.

The influence that Raphael, Correggio and Venetian painting had on Ludovico, Agostino and Annibale Carracci is evident in this work from the Museo del Prado, a paradigm example of the classical balance that dominated their compositions, combined with the naturalist tendency they defended at their Accademia dei Desiderosi in Bologna, which became the Accademia degli Incamminati in 1590. By freeing artists to rediscover what the Carracci called il vero naturale (the truth in nature), this institution was of crucial importance to the launch of the classical branch of Baroque painting. Saint Francis of Assisi in the Portiuncula was attributed to Agostino Carracci until Alfonso E. Pérez Sánchez identified it as the work ascribed to Ludovico in the inventory of paintings that Charles IV kept at the Casita del Príncipe in El Escorial, Madrid. The King himself may have acquired it in Italy while he was still Prince of Asturias. It may originally have been commissioned as decoration for a chapel at the Palazzo Zambeccari in Bologna, shortly after Luigi Zambeccari married Pantasilea Bentivoglio.

A reduced-scale copy on copper, dated around 1640, is kept in the Galleria Spada in Rome (inv. 179), from the collection of Cardinal Bernardino Spada (Information updated by the Department of Italian and French Painting until 1800 on 22/20/2021)

Riello, José, Ludovico Carracci 'The ecstasy of Saint Francis'. En: Italian masterpieces from Spain's royal court, Museo del Prado, National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, p.96


Technical data

Inventory number
Carracci, Ludovico
Saint Francis of Assisi in the Portiuncula
1601 - 1603
Height: 200 cm; Width: 147 cm
Royal Collection (adquisition of Carlos IV; Casita del Príncipe, El Escorial-Madrid, h. 1787, nº 205; Palacio de Aranjuez, Madrid, pieza de vestir la reina, 1818, nº 205).

Bibliography +

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: catalogo de los cuadros, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1952, pp. 119.

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso, E., Algunos pintores italianos del siglo XVII en el Museo del Prado, Archivo Español de Arte, XXXV, 1962, pp. 54.

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Pintura italiana del S. XVII en España, Universidad Fundación Valdecilla, Madrid, 1965, pp. 111-112.

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Pintura italiana del siglo XVII: exposición conmemorativa del ciento cincuenta aniversario de la fundación del Museo del Prado, Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia, Madrid, 1970, pp. nº 40.

Salas, Xavier de, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972.

Feigenbaum, Gail, Lodovico Carracci. A Study of His Later Career and a Catalogue of His Paintings. Tesis Doctoral, University Microfilm International, Princeton, 1984, pp. 334.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 130.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado. Inventario general de pinturas (I) La Colección Real, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: catálogo de las pinturas, Ministerio de Educación y Cultura, Madrid, 1996, pp. 64-65.

Brogi, Alessandro, Ludovico Carracci (1555-1619), I, Tipoarte, Bolonia, 2001, pp. 188-189, nº 75.

Bohn, Babette, Ludovico Carracci and the Art of Drawing, Harvey Miller Publishers, Turnhout, 2004, pp. 94-95.

Riello, José, Ludovico Carracci 'The ecstasy of Saint Francis', En: Italian masterpieces from Spain's royal court, Museo del Prado, National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, pp. 96.

García-Diego, Iván M., Un modello para un Carracci del Prado, ARS Magazine. Revista de Arte y Coleccionismo, 25, 2015, pp. 135.

Other inventories +

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 705.
Caracci (Agustin) / 705. San Francisco de Asis. / En la parte superior del cuadro, nues- / tro señor Jesucristo en medio de gloria y / de angeles, muestra el serafico santo / á la Virgen, que parece decir á su divino / hijo que le tiene bajo su proteccion. / Alto 7 pies, 2 pulg; ancho 5 pies, 3 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 705.

Inv. Fernando VII, Aranjuez, 1814-1818. Núm. 205.
Pieza de vestir la Reyna [...] {20834} 205 / Dos varas ancho dos y media alto, San Francisco con la cooncesión del Jubileo de la Porciuncula

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 89.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 131.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1942-1996. Núm. 131.
Catálogos Museo del Prado: 1910-1996, nº 131.

Inscriptions +

Inscribed in white. Front, lower left corner

Inscribed in red color. Front, lower left corner

Exhibitions +

Italian Masterpieces from Spain's Royal Court. Museo Nacional del Prado
16.05.2014 - 31.08.2014

Location +

Room 005 (On Display)

Update date: 09-04-2022 | Registry created on 02-12-2015

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